Hope for the nation's future can be found in A Christmas Story.
I’m an actor in “A Christmas Story.” Okay, not the movie you know, but it’s that same story. Acting is what I do almost exclusively for a living. I fill in the downtime with some writing work and the occasional teaching gig, but my work as an actor is how I pay the bills. I feel extremely lucky to be able to do what I do. The work affords me the opportunity to view humankind through a prism I wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to look through.
For example, if I’m doing a play, I get to take a serious look at what it must be like to live as someone else for a period of time and interact with others as this person. This has the potential to truly change my life every time out, as well as the lives of audience members on a nightly basis. To be effective in this, I must have an ability to imagine circumstances, a desire to listen well, and a heart tuned to empathy.
Currently, I am in a production of “A Christmas Story, The Musical” at The Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. If you’re not acquainted with the musical, it’s likely you’ll be familiar with the 1983 film on which it is based. Ralphie Parker wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas more than anything, and he has to convince his parents that he needs it. He also must convince them that he won’t shoot his eye out.
I love the movie, and I love the musical even more. The movie’s heightened and sometimes down to Earth method of storytelling has always lent itself to adaptation as a musical, and this Tony nominated rendition has done it extremely well. Some stories just work better with songs.
I think what makes “A Christmas Story” so popular, both as a movie and a musical, is its themes of childhood growing pains, family struggles, and love. The story takes us back to a time that at once seems very distant and just like yesterday. Set in Indiana in 1940 the story ignites within its audience a sense of nostalgia, reminding them that while this may be a somewhat distance time, some things never change.
In the mid-west, just before World War II, the Depression still weighed heavily on families. At Christmas time in 1940, no one had any idea that a year from then so many young men would be gone from small towns and big cities fighting wars on two different fronts.
It was a time when mothers took care of the home while fathers worked hard at their jobs if they were lucky enough to have steady work. My grandparents had just gotten married the year before and they were hopeful that the times would soon be changing. There were many moments in my young life when I asked one or the other of my grandparents to tell me their stories of those times. Their stories always gave me hope that whatever I was going to have to deal with in my life I would come out on the other side, better for it.
In a very similar way, I do eight times a week for complete strangers what my grandparents did for me when I was young—I help tell them a story about difficult times that ends with hope.
In our current world, the threats to our way of life and the possible dangers we face are different than they were for my grandparent’s and Ralphie Parker’s generation, but they are as real and present as they were in 1940. One of the main differences between then and now is that the United States had a president in Franklin Delano Roosevelt who brought the nation together. As I return nightly from my two and a half hour journey back in time with “A Christmas Story,” I am confronted with the fact that our country is deeply encumbered by extreme division, evidenced by the shockingly banal presidential debates. Will we be able to find a President in 2016 that can unite us? It doesn’t look too good.
Some days I see the state of our country and I guard my hope as if it were a rare bird that only comes around this part of the country once in a very great while. But then, as if that bird were calling it, I remember a story of hope my grandparents once told me, or I look around at my castmates on stage and let that hope out of its cage to fly a bit.
We have come a long way as a country. We have come a long way as a people. Tough times have been faced before, tougher than many of us might ever know ourselves, but we can face our division and differences with a hope that we will be better off tomorrow than we are today.
In the final scene of “A Christmas Story, The Musical” the company sings,
Years may pass but still we will remember, Being here together this December. Seeing every girl and boy, With a heart so full of joy. We’ll look back some day, Who could ask for more?
There is plenty to hope for in our world today. Things might seem bleak at times, to say the least, but a common hope for a better future is a good place to begin.