Sometimes we don’t know how deep our roots go.
I didn’t go in particularly open to a kid who wanted a BB gun for Christmas. But a mood akin to Dylan Thomas “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” took effect by intermission. And by final curtain, I was reliving my Christmas wish as a kid for my first bike.
The kid in this “Christmas Story” by Jean Shepherd has a sneaky way of getting to you. He’s a kind of All-American grade schooler out of the Jack Armstrong era; which is to say, a stereotype so deeply imbedded in the national consciousness you don’t even know it’s there.
The framework sets up an Old Man reflecting back on his boyhood Christmas on Cleveland Street in Hohman, Ind., 1940. The boyhood involved is the rich, inner life of Ralphie; a quiet, passive kid who has his heart set on a Red Ryder pneumatic rifle that shoots BBs.
Now to a kid like Ralphie, anything that had to do with Red Ryder related to a cowboy hero who made it from a drugstore comic book to the radio in his living room at a time when radio ruled the air waves. Ralphie talked about Red, read about Red and in some ways more personal than TV because he had to draw more from his imagination, actually participated with Red in weekly advenures on radio. Ralphie idolized Red Ryder. To have a rifle like his was to get closer to him, be even more like him.
An early con job from Madison Avenue, huh?
Maybe; but getting his parents to buy him a Red Ryder BB gun teaches Ralphie lessons about life and living and the cohesive power of giving and receiving. Divest it, as Ralphie does of commercial profiteering, and the story is about moving closer to the spirit of Christmas. It’s funny, insightful, family-oriented, nostalgic, rooted in Americana.
Seth Michaels plays Ralphie; the introvert whose Red Ryder fantasies pop up when you least expect them and to hilarious effect. John Gonzalez adds senior perspective to childhood experience as Ralphie in his later years and as the story’s narrator.
Roy Feiring and Yvette Zaepfel provide Dagwood and Blondie role models as Ralphie’s dad and mom. Rachel Bowen is Ralphie’s very strict school teacher and blown up into a raving witch in one of Ralphie’s fantasy episodes, an upraorious show highlight.
Andy Bowen is Ralphie’s little brother; Drew Galteland, the school bully. Danielle Gordon, Tim Johanson, Katherine McClelland, Joe Clark, Aaron LaPlante are school friends.
You may think you are immune. But this is an old-fashioned Christmas virus. I doubt there is an antidote.
Recommended for one and all.