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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Taking on Sacred Ground

Christmas season is here, which means it’s time for holiday tunes and movies. Specifically, it’s time for the 24-hour TBS showcase of a leg lamp, a Red Ryder BB gun, and a tongue frozen to a flagpole: the 1983 comedy A Christmas Story. The annual movie marathon starring Ralphie Parker, a young boy in Hammond, Ind., on a quest to get a BB gun for Christmas, begins Christmas Eve. If you can’t wait that long, Evansville Civic Theatre will bring the iconic film to its Fulton Avenue stage starting Dec. 3.

Christopher Tyner, Civic Theatre’s director of education and box office manager who is directing the upcoming holiday play, recalls renting A Christmas Story as an eighth grader in 1985 after receiving a VHS player for his birthday. Like the wholesome Parker family in the film, Tyner’s parents insisted on spending time together during the holidays. His memories of Christmas morning mirror the movie almost exactly, he says — running downstairs to the tree and fantasizing about the presents underneath.

The connection influenced Tyner to take on Philip Grecian’s 2000 adaptation of the screenplay, even though he says that this production will be one of the most difficult translations from screen to stage that he has ever done. The reason? Because audiences of all generations — from kids to grandparents — are familiar with A Christmas Story, taking too much creative freedom with the play almost would violate “sacred ground,” Tyner says. The classic, comedic moments — Mr. Parker receiving that one-of-a-kind leg lamp, Santa Claus pushing Ralphie down a slide — practically are mandatory.

One enhancement Tyner looks forward to using is the onstage presence of an older Ralphie, the narrator, throughout the play. He also is eager to introduce Ralphie’s classmate and crush, Esther Jane Alberry.

The characters and holiday traditions are the heart of what makes A Christmas Story a modern classic. “As flawed as the Parker family is,” Tyner says, “I think everybody can see different pieces of themselves and their families growing up in these characters. This play really brings home a lot more warmth to the story.” 

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