PETER BILLINGSLEY, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, Ian Patrella, Tedde Moore—you probably don't recognize these names, but you've most likely seen these actors on screen in holiday seasons gone by. They make up the small and brilliant core cast of the 1983 classic holiday film A Christmas Story, and they are, through no direct fault of the production's, the main ingredient missing from Portland Center Stage's (PCS) recent theatrical adaptation of the same title.
It isn't that PCS' version (freely adapted by Phil Grecian, and directed by Rose Riordan) is poorly put together, or underwhelming. In fact, the cast for this staged version of Jean Shepherd's sentimental tale of a 1940s Christmas is charming, almost loveable, and the technical elements impress in more ways than one. But PCS has given itself an uphill battle, asking the audience to forget beloved scenes and characters from the film that work much better in their original medium.
A Christmas Story is the tale of Ralphie, a Middle American kid living in Hohman, Indiana, who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. It's a story full of imaginative childhood wonder, instantly relatable to anyone who has ever believed that the right gift can cure all ails. PCS' play follows Ralphie through the many fantastical plots he concocts to convince the adults in his life that the BB gun is the gift of the ages, but many of the film's original images, lines, and expressions fall short in the theatrical setting.
Slight additions to the script—like that of the older Ralphie, played by the charismatic and grounded Darius Pierce—help to alleviate this issue, but the distraction of the subject matter inevitably takes over. Ultimately, the departure from the time-tested motion picture may have been in vain. It's a hard thing to come to grips with, especially for the avid live-performance supporter, but sometimes a film should stay a film.
MORE HOLIDAY THEATER!
Mars on Life—LIVE!—Susannah Mars' annual holiday variety show returns with Mars on Life—LIVE!, starring Mars and guests including Holcombe Waller, the Portland Gay Men's Chorus, and more. Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison, 241-1278, Wed-Sun, 7:30 pm, Sun 2 pm, through Dec 19, $20-47, artistsrep.org
The Santaland Diaries—Powerhouse Wade McCollum stars as Crumpet the disgruntled Macy's elf in Portland Center Stage's sarcastic one-man adaptation of David Sedaris' popular essay. Portland Center Stage, Ellyn Bye Studio at the Armory, 128 NW 11th, 445-3700, Tues-Sun 7:30 pm, Sun 2 pm, through Jan 2, $30 & up, pcs.org
Ebenezer Ever After—Stumptown Stages brings us this musical sequel to the Dickens classic. Twenty years later, Scrooge sets off to save his old partner Jacob Marley from his ghostly chains. Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont, Thurs-Sat 7:30 pm, Sun 2 pm, through Dec 24, $30, stumptownstages.com
The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge—The revisionist-Scrooge theme is popular this year—Hillsboro's Bag&Baggage Productions offers a sequel to A Christmas Carol in which Ebenezer's famed redemption didn't even last a year. The Venetian Theatre, 253 E Main, Hillsboro, 345-9590, Wed-Sat 7:30 pm, Sun 2 pm, through Dec 23, $12-23, bagnbaggage.org