by Michael Buzzelli
All Ralphie Parker (Sebastian Maloni) wants for Christmas is a “Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time (a sundial)” in Jean Shepherd’s beloved, and perennial Christmas story, “A Christmas Story.”
In Philip Grecian’s adaptation, Adult Ralphie (John Shepard) narrates this tale from the sidelines, and, occasionally, jumps into the action as a Christmas tree salesman and a mythologized version of Alan Lane, the Red Ryder himself.
Young Ralphie tries desperately to persuade his Mother (Jamie Agnello) and his hapless Old Man (Tim McKeever) about the desired bb gun, but they’re busy with their own problems. The Old Man (an unfortunate moniker) fights with the furnace, fends off a pack of the neighbor’s dogs, and struggles with his new-to-the=Parker’s used car.
Mother is busy with making meatloaf and red cabbage and caring for Ralph’s younger brother, Randy (an adorable Neal Raj Wadhwa, Jr.), who has bladder control issues and likes to hide in tight corners around the house.
At school, Ralph hangs with his besties, Flick (Colin Bozick) and Schwartz (Kaaveri Patil), avoids the school bully, Farkas (Eamonn McElfresh), and struggles to understand his friendship with Esther Jean (Natalie McGovern).
Their teacher, Miss Sheilds (Hope Anthony), tries to keep all of them in line.
Unless you were raised in the jungle with Tarzan or grew up in a fallout shelter next to Kimmy Schmidt, you’re probably familiar with “A Christmas Story.” Here, in the U.S., it runs on a near endless loop on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and it can be found on a variety of networks and streaming services for the rest of recorded history.
” A Christmas Story is strung together, like popcorn on a Christmas tree, by a series of comedy sketches. Some of the sketches are about Ralphie’s desire to own the “Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time,” and some are not. The Leg Lamp and the Lamppost scene have nothing to do with the arc of the story, but the non-sequiturs are delightful kernels.
The product placement (yes, it’s a real thing and you can find the eponymous bb gun on display at the Daisy Airgun Museum in Rogers, Arkansas), is undeniable. The breathless words, “Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time,” are repeated thirty times in the play. It’s follow-up phrase, “You’ll shoot yer eye out,” is repeated several times as well. The show would be fifteen minutes shorter if the boy wanted a football.
Shepard is brilliant as Adult Ralphie. He spins his yarn with exuberant joy, like a big kid reveling in his own antics. It’s an amazing thing to watch.
McKeever makes the role of the Old Man his own. His energy and enthusiasm for the role is boundless. His natural charm exudes out of him, and Ralphie’s dad becomes far more likable with McKeever in the role.
Agnello makes the Mother her own as well. She plays her as loving and compassionate, with added whimsy and a soupçon of sarcasm.
Anthony brings a pizazz to the role of Miss Sheilds, especially in Ralphie’s bizarre fantasy sequences.
Maloni is a sympathetic Ralphie. He plays the character with childhood innocence. It’s a lovely performance. The rest of the kids, some of whom only garner a few lines, deliver their dialogue with aplomb.
Tim Mackabee’s living room set is marvelous, as if lifted from the celluloid and transported into the present. The Parker home rotates like a rotisserie chicken, revolving into the classroom, a Christmas tree lot, and a department store Santaland. It is complimented by some amazing projection design by Bryce Cutler.
The dialogue is crisp and precise thanks to Sartje Pickett’s sound design.
If there’s a reason this show, which ran last year at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, came back, it’s due to Michael Berresse’s breezy and fluid direction.
“A Christmas Story” isn’t really about the “Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time,” but that the Parker family, through all of its faults, finds love at a special time of year, and that’s the true meaning of Christmas, and the best Christmases are the ones when we’re all together.
“A Christmas Story” runs until December 23 at the Pittsburgh Public Theater/s O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.