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Red Ryder Rises

‘Christmas Story’ takes APT veteran back to beginning

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Photographs by Photo Courtesy Danielle Keller

Ralphie Parker (played by Preston Dulaney) has a fantasy conversation with Red Ryder (Kyle Fosse) in "A Christmas Story."

Ten-year-old Ralphie Park has only one worry in his life: Will Santa bring him the "official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass and this thing which tells time built right into the stock" he dreams of for Christmas?

Actor Preston Dulaney, 17, has a lot more on his mind. He's a senior at Bentonville High School and has booked auditions with colleges like Juilliard, the London Academy of Dramatic Arts, Fordham and New York University to continue his acting career.

FAQ

‘A Christmas Story’

WHEN — 8 p.m. Dec. 8-9; 2 p.m. Dec. 10; again Dec. 14-17

WHERE — Arkansas Public Theatre at the Victory in downtown Rogers

COST — $22-$34

INFO — 631-8988

Ralphie Parker (played by Preston Dulaney, left) reaches out to touch the “major award” won by his father (Dennis Laing) while his mother (Andria Lick...

The two worlds intersect because Dulaney is playing Ralphie in the Arkansas Public Theatre production of "A Christmas Story," the comedy adapted for the stage from the 1983 movie. It's far from his first experience: He's appeared in shows at Bentonville High, TheatreSquared, Trike Theatre, Arts Live Theatre and played Sir Tom in the national tour of "Camelot" at the Walton Arts Center. It's not even his first time in the show: He was Randy, the oinking, snowsuited little brother in two previous APT productions.

"'A Christmas Story' in 2011 was my first mainstage production, and this will likely be my last show in Arkansas before I move away for college," Dulaney says. "I feel like I've come full circle."

Dulaney fell in love with acting early on.

"As a 4-year-old enthralled in his Disney programs, I asked my mother about the people on the screen," he remembers. "She explained that they were actors and what acting was. Since that day, I've wanted to entertain people the way those characters entertained me."

But how does a 17-year-old play a 10-year-old?

"Being so small," the 4-foot-11 actor says, "I have the ability to play roles meant for much younger actors -- Ralphie Parker, for instance." There is a downside. "When I go to restaurants, they always try to give me the kids' menu -- crayons included."

Director Ed McClure, who knows "A Christmas Story" even better than Dulaney does, says helping him play a character so much younger than his actual age "has its challenges."

"But it's nice having a shorthand I can use with Preston because he's very familiar with every aspect of the show," McClure says. "He's got a ton of lines, but they're not hard coming because he knows the show."

So do audiences -- and that's why APT presents the comedy for the holidays every three years. "It's beloved -- beloved and comfortable and familiar," McClure says. But that doesn't mean it's not a new show every time. "You start over in the sense that you think about what went well with past productions, what didn't go so well, how you can stage it more interestingly, how you can improve the flow of the show." This year, McClure decided to speed up the production, making it 90 minutes with no intermission. And the set, while still filled with traditional furnishings, is more abstract in the sense of division of acting spaces.

"This year, the house and the other spaces -- the classroom, the light pole, the car -- all kind of flow together," he says, "and that helps the flow of the play."

All four of the adult actors -- Kyle Fosse as the adult Ralph; Andria Lickfelt as the mother, Dennis Laing as the father and Autumn Mitchell as Miss Shields -- are new to the roles, and McClure says that creates both a learning curve and an opportunity to "try different things." During a Monday evening rehearsal, everyone rose to the occasion, putting the comedic poetry into lines like "over the years I got to be quite a connoisseur of soap. My personal preference was for Lux, but I found Palmolive had a nice, piquant after-dinner flavor -- heady, but with just a touch of mellow smoothness. Life Buoy, on the other hand ... Yech."

There's one more reason to repeat "A Christmas Story," McClure reminds. Daisy Outdoor Products built Red Ryder BB guns in Rogers, the company's museum is three doors up the street, and Daisy is sponsoring the show.

"It's a natural connection."

NAN What's Up on 12/03/2017

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