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THEATRE REVIEW: A Chrismas Story

Anxiety of Influence: So what if A Christmas Story can't escape its former cinematic self?

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A Christmas Story
Produced by the Village Playhouse
Dec. 4-6, 12-13, 19-20, 7 p.m.; Dec. 14, 3 p.m.
$12-$25
The Village Playhouse
730 Coleman Blvd., Mt. Pleasant
(843) 856-1579
www.villageplayhouse.com

The upside to producing a stage adaptation of a classic holiday movie is that everybody in the audience already knows the story. Of course, this is also the risk that accompanies the decision, and it's considerable.

Which brings us to Village Playhouse and its second season of mounting A Christmas Story. Let's begin by acknowledging some basics: The company wouldn't have reprised the play if it hadn't succeeded in 2007; the room was packed for last week's 2008 opening; and the look and feel of everything on display, from sets to performances, was entirely acceptable (and at times, laudable).

All signs point to a profitable 2008 run.

But here's where that risk crops up: It's difficult to be entertained by a live stage performance when the film original is spooling alongside it inside your head.

To be fair, the script tries to be something other than a live-action remake — it's an adaptation of Jean Shepherd's short stories, not his screenplay — but the result never escapes the shadow of its far-more-concise predecessor.

The result is like attending a tribute-band concert, or maybe a well-produced Christmas Story pageant. The audience seemed pleasantly entertained, though it generally reserved its laughter for recurring lines by child actors Michael Curtis (as Randy) and Jonathan Jones (as Flick).

If that experience is your goal, you'll probably feel good about your investment.

But fans of the movie may reasonably expect more. It took years for the 1983 film to become a classic, largely because people weren't sure what to make of it.

A Christmas Story was too Norman Rockwell for new-wave hipsters and too satirical for the kitsch crowd, but over time Americans grew to love Shepherd's subversive blend of nostalgia and cynicism.

The climax of the film occurs not with the gift of the BB gun, but after the turkey disaster, in a Chinese restaurant, with the family unbound by traditional expectations, in a moment of true, memorable happiness.

The stage version isn't so interested in that conclusion. This is a show that one may safely attend with one's children and one's elderly parents, and its message is that family and Christmas are good.

Attending a performance with a multigenerational group is something children may remember well into adulthood, recalling the family experience with a certain "simpler times" nostalgia.

And if that isn't beautifully ironic, I don't know what is.

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