|Review by Jim Clavin|
When I was first contacted by Philip Grecian, he excitedly told me that he had just completed writing a full length stage version of Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story". He went on to explain how he had been a fan of Shep's since the early 70's and when offered the chance to write this adaptation, he jumped at it.
Taking a story from a motion picture is no easy task. On film, you have the whole world to use as a stage and it is easy to jump from scene to scene and use as many people as needed. Doing a play on stage, requires more discipline on the part of the writer since he or she must contend with the confines of a stage, a limited number of sets, people, lighting, and sound restrictions. Each of these must be used as efficiently as possible.
In "A Christmas Story" the story focused on Ralphie's home and school with other scenes taking place in a department store, back alleys, the school parking lot, the town square, and even a Chinese restaurant.
Philip created a main set consisting of Ralphie's home with a second floor bedroom, and some clever side sets such as the classroom, backyard, and Santa's Mountain. During the play, your attention is led by lighting effects to focus on one portion of the stage, while another portion is slightly re-arranged for a different scene.
Rather than create alarge cast of characters like in the movie, Philip has cleverly taken the part of Ralph, the narrator, and given him a 'live' role in the play. The narrator in the play walks amongst the audience, and up onto the stage where he tells the story of Ralphie. Philip uses this same person to play many of the small parts in the play such as the Christmas Tree salesman, and even uses him to play Santa. Probably the most clever use of Ralph is when he inter-acts with Ralphie who is depressed about everyone telling him he'll shoot his eye out. Sporting a cowboy hat and bandanna, Ralph calls Ralphie over to sit next to him on a log. "Howdy Pardner"..."Come on over and set a spell." He gives Ralphie a lesson on how tough it is being a cowboy and a cowboy never gives up.
Philip uses the famous "Meatloaf and Red Cabbage" reference throughout the play gently convincing the audience that every meal in the Parker house was meatloaf and red cabbage. Another exaggeration he pulls off well is the ad for the Red Ryder which he placed in his mother's magazine in the movie. In the play it pops up everywhere including the mailbox.
Although he has to limit the size of the cast, Philip felt it was important to increase the roles of a couple of the girls. Hence, Helen Weathers and Esther Jane Alberry have bigger roles including a little display of puppy love by Esther Jane for a flustered Ralphie.
Philip wished to write this play in the same form that Shep himself would have used and he has succeeded. Having only the original movie and a few of Shep's stories to draw from, he has done a remarkable job of retelling the story and tastefully enhancing it.
If you find a local theater group that will be presenting "A Christmas Story" this holiday season, buy yourself a ticket, and save a seat for Shep.