Nov. 23--Jean Shepherd's semi-autobiographical reminiscences of his childhood formed the basis of "A Christmas Story," a little 1983 film that after middling success grew into a cultural touchstone.
Iconic images from the film include little Ralphie clad in pink bunny pajamas, and his pal Flick's tongue stuck to a metal pole in frigid Indiana. Also part of the collective pop consciousness is the warning Ralphie receives whenever he asks for a BB gun for Christmas: "You'll shoot your eye out."
All these elements are front and center in the stage production of the story presented by the Bay Street Players in Eustis. As directed by Joel Warren, "A Christmas Story" gently earns audience chuckles through an equal mix of humor and nostalgia -- both for its 1930s time period and the now 30-year-old film itself.
Philip Grecian's play, written 12 years before the 2012 musical version, hums along from familiar moment to familiar moment. But long stretches in the Bay Street production have a certain flatness with the actors' lines delivered at the same emotional level. Character shadings, especially in the pivotal role of Ralphie's mother, are mostly absent, as well.
The result is a generally amusing evening, even if the production doesn't touch the heart with the same effect as the beloved film.
The story, narrated by a grown up Ralphie, is a simple one: As a 9-year-old, the boy really wants a BB gun for Christmas. A Red Ryder BB gun, to be precise. He develops a strategy to make sure his parents, teacher and Santa himself will go along with the gift, but things don't go according to plan. Complicating things are the local bully and the stirrings of first love with classmate Esther Jane.
The Bay Street production plays out on a beautiful two-story set, designed by Warren. Mom serves up meatloaf and red cabbage in the kitchen, decorative copper pots gleaming on the walls. Curtains flutter around the iconic lamp shaped like a lady's leg, Dad's prize possession.
It's a kid-heavy story, as movie fans know. Among the younger set at Bay Street, Brandon Glisson is a charmer as Ralphie, sporting his oversized black-rimmed glasses. Joe Patterson, as younger brother Randy, is very funny in his visual gags. He snuffs up oatmeal, face in the bowl, grunting like "Mommy's little piggy." Later, wrapped in layer upon layer of winter wear, he forlornly squeals that he can't lower his arms and shrieks "I have to go wee-wee."
As adult Ralph, James Simpson shares his childhood anecdotes with a low-key delivery that could occasionally use a bit more firepower. Marni Ann Whitehead's Mother is also somewhat one-note; the shrewdness behind her actions is never clear.
Ralphie calls his dad "The Old Man," and Patrick Ward has a gleeful energy as he rages against a smoky furnace, spouts unintelligible profanities and puzzles over a trivia contest. Ward's the live wire in this "Christmas Story."
'A Christmas Story'
-- What: A Bay Street Players production of Philip Grecian's play based on the 1993 film
-- Length: 2 hours, including intermission
-- Where: State Theatre, 109 N. Bay St., Eustis
-- When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 8
-- Tickets: $18-$21; $11 students
-- Call: 352-357-7777
-- Online: baystreetplayers.org
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