"A Christmas Story" at Syracuse Stage with (from left) Nicholas Deapo as young Ralphie, Elizabeth Townsend as Mother Parker, Charles Kartali as the Old Man, and Hunter Metnick as Randy. Photo by T. Charles Erickson, courtesy of Syracuse Stage.
"You'll shoot your eye out with laughter!" runs the tagline in ads for "A Christmas Story," the holiday season production at Syracuse Stage, along with a photo of young Ralphie in a pink bunny suit. It's true that part of that tagline becomes a running gag that, judiciously applied, eventually provokes much of the audience, through gales of laughter, to recite along with the characters on stage.
But there's a good deal more going on here than pink bunny suits, as guaranteed as they may be to sell tickets (indeed, as of opening night many performances were already sold out). The purported subject of the story - 12-year-old Ralphie Parker's yearning for a particular BB gun, "an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time" (that is, a sun-dial) - which has been repeated as infinitum on countless radio spots for the past several weeks, also doesn't actually show up for a good ten or fifteen minutes into the first act. Instead, as the scene of the Parker household is established, Ralphie (Liverpool student Nicholas Deapo) is making a list of what gifts he will get for others. It's 1938 in Hohman, Indiana - a sliver of time when money's still pretty tight at the tail end of the Great Depression and, looking back, we know World War II is not far off.
As many will know, "A Christmas Story" is the title of the 1983 film, written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark, and based upon several episodes from Shepherd's largely autobiographical collection of radio tales in book form, "In Go We Trust, All Others Pay Cash." Since 1997, the film has broadcast every Christmas Eve on television. In fact, there were only two other people besides myself - I admit this is odd for someone who writes primarily about film - who had not seen the movie when director Seth Gordon asked for a show of hands in the opening night Prologue session an hour before curtain time.