There are classics, and then there are Classics. During the winter holiday season, versions of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” compete with the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Those are Classics.
This year, Olympia Family Theater wanted more of a lowercase classic.
“We were looking for something in the holiday canon but not something that everybody else is doing,” said Samantha Chandler, OFT’s managing director. “We wanted to do something a little different.”
That something is “A Christmas Story,” a play based on the popular 1983 film about young Ralphie Parker and his family celebrating a Midwestern holiday. The film was based on humorist Jean Shepherd’s memories of his family and the Christmas when all he wanted was a BB gun. The response Ralphie hears over and over: “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
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“I absolutely love it and I have since I was very young or whenever it came out,” said Josh Anderson, who’s directing the production.
It is difficult to remember how long the movie has been a staple, perhaps because it’s set in the 1940s, the era of such perennial holiday tales as “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“From watching the movie, which I haven’t seen in a long time, I didn’t recall the time period so specifically,” Chandler said. “It’s between wars and after the Depression so it adds this whole other element to it that I wasn’t aware of when I was a kid. For adults in the audience, some of those nostalgic moments and ideas are going to be really important.”
And then there’s just the nostalgia factor of simply having seen the movie year after year.
“I remember growing up there was some TV station that would play it all day long on Christmas Day,” Anderson said. (Cable channel TBS still does the 24-hour marathon, repeating the film every two hours starting at 8 p.m. Christmas Eve.)
Directing a play based on a film with that kind of exposure has its own challenges.
“If you’re dealing with something like ‘A Christmas Carol,’ which has been done so many times in so many different ways, you have a lot more freedom in how you interpret it,” Anderson said. “With something like this, we want to re-create the essence of the iconic moments but within the context of a production that maybe feels similar but has its own variations.”
One OFT variation: Bully Scut Farkus, who taunts Ralphie, is played by a girl, 11-year-old Leona McCann, a sixth-grader at Reeves Middle School. The cast members also have been working on ways to make the roles their own, Anderson said, while still including the most memorable bits from the film.
“There are moments that we just have to have that the audience will remember from the film,” he said, “and then there are things that will be new surprises.”