A Christmas Story occupies a unique spot in the holiday film canon—quirkier than such wonderful but overexposed movies as It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, but too broadly appealing to be a cult classic. Philip Grecian’s stage adaptation currently staged by Pioneer Theatre Co. is utterly faithful to the 1983 movie. Based on Jean Shepherd’s autobiographical accounts of his Midwestern childhood, it presents a nostalgic portrait of a circa-1940 Christmas through the eyes of 9-year-old Ralphie (Mason Johnson). This sounds like a recipe for schmaltz, but the narrator (Jack Koenig) maintains a satirical distance from the tale, rescuing it from unbearable sentimentalism.
But A Christmas Story rings too true to be just an ironic swipe at the past. Shepherd’s insight into Ralphie’s internal world is honest and perceptive; the boy’s shock at hearing the worst imaginable cuss-word come out of his own mouth in front of his father makes us laugh because we were 9 once, too. Ralphie’s story is universal.
Fans of the movie will find much that is familiar—the dialog, the fantasy sequences and, above all, Ralphie’s determined campaign for that official Red Ryder air rifle are all there. A lot of the humor in the movie is visual, though, and a bit is lost in translation to the stage, like the close-up of Flick’s (Gavin Yehle) panicked face with his tongue stuck to a frozen lamppost.
But the performances are uniformly strong, particularly from the children. With beautiful set and production design, PTC’s A Christmas Story makes for delightful family entertainment.