When Richard Dennis first saw the classic holiday film A Christmas Story, he found the whole thing a little sad.
“I didn’t love the movie,” said Dennis, who directs the stage adaptation for Denton Community Theatre. “It was sort of melancholy. But what’s funny is that, now that I’m older and have four kids, I really like the play.”
The stage version of the film follows the beloved film nearly scene-for-scene. The audience settles in with Ralphie, a man who is looking back at his Christmas at age nine in the late 1940s. The hopeful Ralphie is on the cusp of puberty, and yearns for something that symbolizes his first steps of independence: “an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.”
The play is an honest (if ever-so-slightly soft focus) look at the Parker family as the holidays approach. The Old Man is a crank, but he loves his sons Ralphie and Randy. Mrs. Parker is a long suffering but doting mom who wants to give Ralphie anything for Christmas — except the BB gun he longs for. (Ralphie lobbies his mother, his teacher and the Santa Claus from the local department store. They all puncture his fantasy with the dire warning: “You’ll shoot your eye out.”) There are the neighborhood pals, and one big bully — Scut Farkus.
Dennis, who teaches middle school theater in Frisco, said the story speaks to the child in the viewer.
“When you’re a kid, you have all this trepidation about Christmas. Are you going to get that gift you really want? And then there’s getting stuff you don’t want to wear from relatives,” Dennis said. “The play really shines a light on what children think of Christmas. For adults, there is this wonderful, warm nostalgia. But for the kids, they have a lot to worry about... Ralphie is probably about a year away from not believing in Santa anymore.”
Dennis has taken some chances with the play. He’s taken the adult Ralphie — usually a voice offstage or behind a lectern — and put him on stage, playing different characters and getting into the action. Dennis cast young actors to play the roles of the seven young characters.
“I was lucky and was able to cast children who are close in age to the characters, and then I also cast children to be in some ensemble parts,” Dennis said.
The play positions Ralphie’s longing for the BB gun against the Old Man’s glee over the now-iconic leg lamp he won in a contest. The full-size floor lamp is crafted to look like a woman’s shapely leg — complete with black fishnet stockings, black pump shoe and fringed lampshade.
“You could totally play it that way, but it’s not a fetish thing,” Dennis said. “He just likes it. It doesn’t mean anything about him being in a stale marriage. He just likes it and it makes him happy.”
Performances of A Christmas Story are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 8-9, and on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 15-16 at the Campus Theatre, 214 W. Hickory St. Matinee performances are 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10 and 17.
Tickets cost $22 for adults, $18 for ages 62 and up, $15 for students with valid ID and $10 for ages 12 and under.