Being located all the way out in Summerville, Flowertown Players can feel like an island alone in the sea of Theatre Charleston. This sometimes allows its productions to fly under the radar. It's a mistake. Flowertown has one of the nicest theaters around, and a loyal and devoted fan base. Don't believe it? As of last night's opening, the entire run of their holiday season offering (the perennial A Christmas Story, adapted by Philip Grecian) is completely sold-out. This includes the additional performances added to the schedule. Take that, everybody else.
This means that they have their audiences, no matter what I write here. Good. And it's A Christmas Story, that movie (or play) you've all seen year after year that tells the story of Ralphie's countdown to Christmas and his prayers and plots to receive that Red Rider BB gun. Good. So it may or may not matter that this production, as of last night's opening, looked and played as though it was the first tech rehearsal.
The set design is there. I was as impressed with director Sean Lakey's work here as I was with last season's steampunk Midsummer Night's Dream. Unfortunately, the lighting design by Lakey and Chase Priest leaves most of the show in total shadows during the narrations by adult Ralph (an incredibly sleepy reading by Roland Fulcher). Instead of working the narrations into existing stage pictures, the designers try to switch between full stage house lighting and single spotlights for Fulcher. This is maddening throughout. I constantly felt as if the play was only just starting, but it never really did. It also doesn't help that most of the lighting cues were incredibly late or very wrong.
The entire production just lacked polish. The special effects (wind, smoke, gunshots) either didn't work, weren't on cue, or were barely noticeable. Parts of the show seemed unrehearsed, like Ralphie's first dream about the gun. The bits with the children are enjoyable, but some attention could have been paid to their diction so that lines weren't lost (I missed more than a few words from Ralphie, played by Konrad Knaack). Amelia Kassing and Gavin Hunt, as young Helen Weathers and Flick, respectively, deserve special recognition. Jackson Barnard is smaller than the rest of the cast of kids, but he commits entirely to being the bully, and it works. Applause, applause.
It just all feels rushed. Sean Lakey hasn't given this production enough time to finish cooking, and it shows. The edges are all frayed. Nobody even bothered to remove the obviously placed Walmart sticker on the Christmas tree base. A few of these things can be smoothed out over the course of the run. But the overall value is not there. And while the Red Carpet Night had all the ambiance, champagne, parlor music, and finger foods you could enjoy, it's hard to feel satisfied with this level of production.