Christmas Tale of BB Gun And Leg-Shaped Lamp Hits Stage

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

Playhouse on the Square and Circuit Playhouse are adding the Memphis premiere of a classic about Christmas gone hilariously wrong to their trio of holiday performances. Circuit Playhouse presents “A Christmas Story,” opening Nov. 26. The 1983 film version of the play, starring Peter Billingsley as 9-year-old Ralphie Parker, single-handedly made the phrase “you’ll shoot your eye out” a household joke and started a national craze for leg-shaped bordello lamps.

Ralphie from "A Christmas Story," which opens Nov. 26 at Circuit Playhouse, is warned througout the story that if he gets the coveted Red Ryder BB gun, he'll shoot his eye out. (Photo: Courtesy of Playhouse on The Square)

It’s the story of the week before Christmas for the Parker family of Hammond, Ind. Ralphie has his heart set on getting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas and schemes to convince his mother that he’s old enough to have one while fantasizing about the heroics he will achieve once he does.

Cecelia Wingate said she didn’t have to think twice about accepting the project when Playhouse on the Square executive director Jackie Nichols asked her to direct it. Wingate has directed numerous times for Playhouse and Theatre Memphis and recently directed “Little Shop of Horrors” at Harrell Theatre in Collierville.

“On the phone I’m sitting there thinking, do I want to give up my holiday?” said Wingate. “And as soon as he said the play was ‘A Christmas Story,’ I said, ‘OK, I’m in.’ Who’s not interested in ‘A Christmas Story’?”

But immediately she found herself facing the problem of the film version’s popularity.

“The key word is ‘iconic,’” said Wingate. “There’s this total dread that people are going to come to see the movie because it is so iconic. But there are some things in the play that are not in the movie. So I thought how can I make this a theatrical experience?”

For example, Wingate said that the play has more of Ralphie’s daydream sequences than the movie, including one of her favorites in which he, with his Red Ryder in hand, rescues the schoolchildren who have been marching aimlessly through a swamp.

She opted to keep some of the iconic costume pieces from the film as well including the long, knit toboggan worn by Ralphie’s friend, Schwartz.

Then she cast her ensemble as the disgruntled Christmas elves, who in the movie version lead Ralphie to see a department store Santa Claus. The elves shift scenes, take on various characters and even appear as next door neighbor’s hound dogs, which are the bane of Ralphie’s father’s existence.

Jeremy Beloate plays young Ralphie with Steve Swift of “Sister Myotis” fame playing the adult Ralphie who narrates the play.

If You Go

“A CHRISTMAS STORY” is being matched with two longtime holiday favorites. Playhouse on the Square presents “Peter Pan” from Nov. 19 to Dec. 23 and Circuit Playhouse presents David Sedaris’ “The Santaland Diaries” Dec. 3 to 22.
Call 726-4656 or visit to order.

“(The play) is of a simpler time and we need that right now,” said Wingate. “We need to forget how screwed up things have become and how commercial Christmas has become. This takes us back to when we were kids. I can remember being a child and thinking my life would end if I didn’t get that one thing. It’s warm and nostalgic and lovely.”

“A Christmas Story” runs through Dec. 23 at Circuit Playhouse. Tickets are $28 for adults, $20 senior/student/military, and $10 for children. The Thursday, Nov. 25, preview performance is free for patrons who bring four cans of food for the Mid-South Food Bank.