The latest and greatest edition of A Christmas Story, performed with gusto by the Cary Players and Applause! Youth Theatre of Cary, is a charming community-theater production that overflows the tiny stage Old Cary Elementary School and spills into the aisles, with a couple of scenes set on small satellite stages to the right and the left of the main stage. Philip Grecian’s entertaining stage adaptation of Jean Shepherd’s classic Christmas story about a nine-year-old boy named Ralphie Parker, a.k.a. Ralphie the Kid in his Walter Mitty-esque daydreams, who wants a BB gun for Christmas—and not just any BB gun, but a Red Ryder 200-Shot Carbine-Action Range-Model Air Rifle—and the adults in Ralphie’s life who unanimously fear that he will use the gun to “shoot [his] eye out.”

A bearded adult Ralph Parker (charmingly played by Matt Schedler) narrates this nostalgic tale, set in Homand, Indiana in 1938, and focusing on young Ralphie (Austin Cunningham), his highly excitable and expletive-prone father a.k.a. The Old Man (Chris McKittrick), his calm and ever-practical Mother (Debra Zumbach Grannan), and his whiny pants-wetting little brother Randy (Ian Pierno). Other important characters include Ralphie’s best buddies Flick (Judson Conrad) and Schwartz (Alec Martschenko); local bully Scut Farkas (Drew Green); Esther Jane Alberry (Mary Felder), who has a huge schoolgirl crush on Ralphie; her brainy friend Helen Weathers (Abbie Martschenko); Ralphie’s third-grade teacher Miss Shields (Angela Lowden); Santa and Mrs. Claus (Tim Corbett and Cheryl O’Hara); and, of course, Red Ryder (Steve Whetzel).

Chris McKittrick is a real pistol as Ralphie’s dad, and Debra Grannan’s unflappable mom provides a nice comic foil to emotionally volatile Old Man. Austin Cunningham and Ian Pierno are funny as the two Parker boys; Judson Conrad and Drew Green are amusing as Flick and Scut Farkas, respectively; and Mary Felder and Abbie Martschenko put lots of personality into their performances as poor lovelorn Esther Jane and her smarty-pants sidekick Helen.

Steve Whetzel gives a gritty performance as Red Ryder; Tim Corbett and especially Cheryl O’Hara are a hoot as Santa and Mrs. Claus; and John Piccone adds a nice cameo as Mr. Goldblatt, the proprietor of the local department store.

First-time director Jim Zervas does a nice job of orchestrating the action, set designers Bob Grannan and Bob Strowbridge have created some striking scenic elements on a shoe-string budget, and costume designer Myranda Barnett outfits the large cast in a colorful array of period fashions. All in all, the Cary Players and Applause! Youth Theatre of Cary’s third-annual presentation of A Christmas Story has lots of rough edges, but it is fast becoming a Cary Christmas tradition.

Cary Players and Applause! Youth Theatre of Cary present A Christmas Story Friday-Saturday, Dec. 15-16, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 17, at 3 p.m. at Old Cary Elementary School, 101 Dry Ave., Cary, North Carolina. $12 ($8 age 12 and under and $10 students and seniors 55+), except $12 all tickets purchased at the door or [inactive 1/08]. Note: The 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15th performance will be audio described by Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh ( Cary Players: [inactive 1/08]. Applause! Youth Theatre of Cary: [inactive 1/08]. A Christmas Story ( Internet Movie Database):