Was Middle America ever as funny as it’s depicted in Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story?
Probably not, if you ask someone who was around in the period between the Great Depression and World War II, when the story takes place.
A Christmas Story, however, is more about an idealized Middle America, one that’s firmly ensconced in warm, fuzzy memory, a sweet nostalgic place that may or may not have existed at all. Because we tend to remember the good parts of life – the other stuff, not so much.
Be that as it may. Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story is pretty darn funny.
The humorist (1921–1999) turned his semi–autobiographical short stories into the screenplay for director Bob Clark’s 1983 movie A Christmas Story (Clark co–wrote the movie with Shepherd, who provided the unforgettable offscreen narration).
Although greeted tepidly on its original release, the movie has become, officially, an American Holiday Classic.
In an unusual reversal of “the way things are usually done,” playwright Philip Grecian adapted the film script into a stage play, and it’s this adaptation that director JinHi Soucy Rand is bringing to Muse Arts Warehouse this month.
“It’s definitely a celebration of a film that has become a holiday tradition for more than one generation,” Rand says. “Jean Shepherd is the voice of Americana. Bottom line, it’s a great story from a great storyteller. That’s why I was so thrilled to find this adaptation.”
We all know the tale – the Parker family lives in a modest house in Hammond, Indiana. For Christmas, bespectacled 9–year–old Ralphie craves an official Red Ryder carbine–action 200–shot range model air rifle. His mother says absolutely not, such a thing is dangerous, and pretty much the entire plot revolves around Ralph’s harebrained schemes to obtain this holiest of holy holiday grails.
There’s more, of course, including Dad’s obsession with a “major prize” he’s won in a contest (a large, ugly lamp that horrifies his wife); Ralph’s confrontations with schoolyard bully Scut Farkus; little brother Randy’s refusal to eat; Dad’s endearing, garbled strings of profanity; best buddy Flick touching his tongue to a frozen steel pole. The department store Santa telling Ralphie “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Christmas duck dinner in a Chinese restaurant.
For various reasons, “There are a few things from the stage production that are not in the film,” Rand says. “And there are a few things that are a little different than in the film.
“But the reason it was adapted in the first place, and the reason we’re doing it, is to share with the community the things people love about this movie.”
Rand, who manages Muse Arts Warehouse and leases it out for area arts organizations, decided to direct A Christmas Story herself when the venue wasn’t otherwise booked for the holiday season. It’s a co–production with the Odd Lot, Muse’s in–house improv comedy troupe.
All the actors in the production are grown–ups – yes, some of them are playing children. It is, after all, a “memory play,” harking back to the ol’ warm and fuzzy, remember?
“By casting adults as the children, I thought it would be a shared experience with adults,” explains the director. “It’s kind of bringing out the kid in all of us. It’s being performed with such great appreciation for the characters they’re playing. And for that time in our lives.
“And I think that’s something that the audience will pick up on. It’s something they can share in.”
Rand and her brother, Odd Lotter Christopher Soucy (he plays Scut Farkus), were Army brats who travelled a lot — most Christmases, Rand remembers, were in Germany or Italy.
She’s decided to admit active–duty military families in to see A Christmas Story for free (reservations required).
“When I think of my childhood, there were events on post where we all got together,” Rand says. “Wherever we lived was our community. That was our family, and that’s where we were for the holidays.
“We spent many a Thanksgiving in the mess hall with young soldiers. And a lot of the children of soldiers are growing up with the choices that their parents made, to serve and to not always be there.
“The idea was to share this with my brothers and sisters. Which has expanded so much over the years, especially living here in Savannah. This is definitely a community production.”
A Christmas Story
Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Road
When: At 8 p.m. Dec. 2–4, Dec. 9–11; at 3 p.m. Dec. 4 and 11
Tickets: General admission $10; free for active duty military families (reservations required)
Contact: (912) 713–1137