A Christmas Story
For anyone who’s ever dreamed of waking up Christmas morning to find “an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass and this thing that tells time built right into the stock” under the tree (feel free to substitute Easy-Bake Oven or Ninja Turtle as is generationally appropriate), Ralphie Parker’s anxiety will resonate. The 1983 film based on Shepherd’s semifictional accounts of his 1940-ish Hammond, Indiana, childhood—since canonized by seasonal marathon airings on cable TV—delineated the grave injustices kids endure at the hands of oblivious adults.
Grecian’s stage adaptation shakes things up with supplemental material from Shepherd’s books: Here a dogged suitor named Ester Jane (Maggie McPherson) helps Ralphie wake up to the possibility that girls can be more beautiful than cootieful. Shepherd’s Wonder Years–style voiceover is replaced with narration by an onstage adult Ralph (Doug MacKechnie), who occasionally steps in to interact with his younger self (remarkably grounded youngster Matthew Levy).
A play this dependent on multiple child actors is a potentially dicey affair, but Pelton’s staging hits exactly the right tone, though he has difficultly re-creating the film’s quick-cut fantasy sequences (and Grecian’s script can feel rote in its progression through the movie’s iconic set pieces). But credit is due to the expansive cast for not simply mimicking the original actors—especially Scott Kennedy, who avoids the urge to ape Darren McGavin in the film’s most brilliant performance and makes Ralphie’s “old man” his own.