Theater review: ‘A Christmas Story' at Georgia Shakespeare

No one can dissuade 9-year-old Ralphie Parker from his Christmas wish: neither naysaying moms, tough-grading teachers, dismissive Santas nor nasty elves.

The bullied and bespectacled kid at the center of “A Christmas Story” covets an “official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle.” Ralphie’s obsession -- and the obstacles he encounters as he pursues the BB gun of his dreams -- are what make the beloved 1983 film starring a young Peter Billingsley such a charmer.

Now Atlanta has its own Ralphie. After closely watched public auditions, 13-year-old Marietta resident Cooper Driskell was chosen to star in Georgia Shakespeare’s stage treatment of the Christmas caper that’s achieved near-cult status thanks to marathon broadcasts on cable TV.

Directed by Drew Fracher and including most of the gags that made this twisted slice of Americana a memorable film, “A Christmas Story” showcases an adorable clutch of fresh-faced Atlanta youngsters who rise to the demands of a script about eccentric families, neighborhood bullies and a “triple-dog dare” that ends in a painful scene in which a boy's tongue gets stuck to a flagpole.

Playwright Philip Grecian’s adaptation keeps most of the movie’s key elements in place, though it toys with the sequence a little and adds a love interest for Ralphie. (Her name is Esther Jane, and she’s played nicely here by Shea Jones.) In the film, the adult Ralph recounts his fabled 1938 Indiana Christmas via voice-over; in the play,  grown-up Ralph (Allan Edwards) inhabits the story in the flesh, operating a bit like the Stage Manager of “Our Town.” The memory-play technique makes sense, to a point. While you expect Ralph to disappear after the setup, he never does, and what was a 90-minute film is stretched to two hours plus intermission, a factor that may exhaust the attentiveness and glee of youngsters.

Though the pace is a tad slow and the novice voices don’t always ring clear, the adults are wonderful and the kids as cute as they can be. On the tall side, there’s Sherman Fracher as Ralphie’s giddy mother, sturdy Mark Kincaid as his blithering, contest-playing, turkey-pinching dad and the delightful LaLa Cochran as his teacher. On the smaller side, Ian L’Abate is perfect as Ralphie’s little brother, Randy, who plays with his food, hides under the sofa and has an accident on Santa. As town tough Scut Farkas, Whit Weinmann is excellent, while Eric Broner (as unlucky Flick) is another standout. Too bad that the focus on the older Ralph more or less prevents Driskell from cutting loose.

Like the film, the play has a timeless, lost-in-a-snow-globe look. Kat Conley's Lazy Susan-style set revolves to reveal the family’s living room, Ralphie’s classroom and Santa’s department-store haunt. It’s a clever but not especially elegant concept. Sydney Roberts’ many-layered costumes provide their own riff on the extreme Midwestern climate but aren’t necessarily frozen in the period, which is fine.

If only some of the community's excitement about this little gem could be bottled, the show would pop like a BB gun and shine like Mr. Parker’s beloved “leg lamp.” For now, it’s a warm and welcome diversion from the mainstream.

Theater review

“A Christmas Story”

Grade: B-

Through Dec. 26. $15-$50. Georgia Shakespeare, Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Road N.E., Atlanta. 404-264-0020,

Bottom line: Classic makes journey to stage without shooting out an eye.