The play adaptation of A Christmas Story written in 2000 by Philip Grecian is not as well known as its movie counterpart of the same name, and the reason will shortly become obvious. Considered an American classic, the movie has been to Christmas day as to what Gone With The Wind has been to Thanksgiving day--tediously inseparable. Tedious in that for 24 hours it plays over and over and over continuously until you want to "wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan." Truth be told, I have never seen the movie all the way through. I have only caught bits and pieces of it while engaging in the remote control spectator sport known as channel surfing looking for something to capture my viewing interest or avoid being subjected to the endless barrage of commercials that run every five minutes on cable TV.
Since everyone with a TV knows the story, I'll skip the synopsis and share some facts about the movies author. Jean Parker Shepherd was born in Chicago in 1921 but raised in the Hessville area of Hammond, Indiana. He graduated from Hammond High School in 1939. He worked briefly as a mail carrier in a steel mill and earned his Amateur radio license at age 16. He attended IU Northwest and served in the Signal Corps during World War II. After service, he worked at WJOB radio in Hammond and later went on to broadcasting in Toledo, Cincinnati and New York.
Often compared to Mark Twain and James Thurber, Shepherd had a flair for spinning stories that tapped into the American psyche. The 1983 movie, "A Christmas Story," is based off a collection of stories from Shepherd's published writings, "In God We Trust; All Others Pay Cash" and "Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories." Shepherd mused, "Now here's an example of the kind of humor that's in your life, you see. It's always in your life all the time, all the time, all the time. It's here--it's absolutely inescapable. Every place you look. There's an old photographers' axiom that says, 'There's a prize winning photo within five feet of you.' This is true. There is all the humor in all of mankind, all the sadness, all the greatness, all the gladness, and all the idiocy--it's within five feet of you. Just look around." And that is what he did in creating the plot for A Christmas Story. Shepherd was the real Ralphie Parker and is the voice of the narrator in the movie.
|The beautifully functional stage and props|
The lighting for this production was a challenge. Initially, when the lights were flashing on and off, I thought there might have been a problem with the lights during some scene changes. In the story, Ralphie drifts back and forth between real life and numerous fantasies where his parents and teacher behave exactly to his liking, praising his heroism and reveling in his wisdom. Transporting the audience into Ralphie's fantasy sequences is more easily pulled-off in a movie through editing than live on stage, which is trickier. The lighting shifts were the technique used to denote those transitions into the fantasy sequences along with quick costume changes.
One of the most memorable scenes of the play incorporated this technique. After saying "The word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the "F-dash-dash-dash" word" which culminated into the soap-in-the-mouth punishment, Ralphie fantasizes his repentant parents groveling at his feet begging for forgiveness as he demonstrates the dangers of soap poisoning, going blind. The scene was one of Sam Daniels finer moments as the dreamer and schemer, Ralphie. A fan of the movie, playing Ralphie was a dream come true for Sam.
Ralpie's Mother, a patient parent with firm convictions, such as, the conviction that her son should not own an air rifle, is adeptly handled by Sarah Daniels--the real life mother of Sam Daniels. The mother-son duo has been seen on stage together a total of five times. The grumpy, good-hearted father, referred to as The Old Man, is played by Glen Orange who is no stranger to comedic roles. As a five year performer at Black Fedora Comedy Mystery Theatre in Charleston, it was totally obvious Glen poured his expletive peppered soul into his character.
The predominantly young cast is packed with new to the stage performers. In his first appearance in a play, 8 year old Liam Hjerling fills the role as "I got to go pee" Randy, Ralphie's cute little brother. Scapegoat Schwartz and guinea pig Flick, Ralphie's two friends, are played by third-timer Brayden Harbert and Jonah Streff. First-timer Michaela Maenche plays Helen Weathers and second-timer Shannon Freeman plays Esther Jane Alberry. Caleb O'Neal stands in as the schoolyard tormentor of Ralphie and his friends, Scut Farcas.
Rounding out the cast with impressive acting achievements to her credit, Ralpie's teacher, Miss Shields, is played by Samantha Elkins--in my opinion, the embodiment of a teacher.
Last but not least, honors go to Chase Priest for his near perfect plot delivery as Ralph Parker, the older version of Ralphie and visible narrator offering a continuous stream of satirical commentary. "Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us," so said Ralph.
Do not miss Ralphie's three-pronged campaign for the Christmas gift of his dreams--the official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle. You will be amused at his attempts to persuade the adults around him that his cause is a righteous one despite their outcry he might shoot his eye out. The infamous frozen-flagpole-licking dare, the hideous fishnet leg lamp, the pink bunny suit, the visit to the department store Santa Claus, and "the most unthinkable" climatic ending are all there to give you the warm and fuzzies.
Purchase your tickets for A Christmas Story.