"It's a Wonderful Life" Long Wharf Theatre December 7--31, 2011

--Irene Backalenick

It is refreshing to have a change from the usual on-stage observance of the holidays. The inevitable appearance of “A Christmas Carol” has worn thin for some of us. Thus, with gratification, we welcome Long Wharf’s choice for this season --“It’s a Wonderful Life.”

As we all know from the film of the same name (in which Jimmy Stewart played George Bailey), it is a story of suffering and redemption. This time around, however, it is not the film version, but a “Live Radio Play.” Written by Joe Landry, it is adapted for the stage. With theme and plot paralleling that of the film, this version takes place in an old-time radio studio and becomes, in fact, a story within a story.

As to the story: George Bailey has survived a number of life’s disappointments. With plans for world travel, a college degree, and an architect’s career, he is always forced to settle for less. Or is it more? He must take on the family business -- the Building and Loan Association -- when his father dies. And time after time he deals with crises, always doing the right thing. Ultimately, facing overwhelming odds, he despairs. “I wish I had never lived!” he cries. But his guardian angel shows him what a disaster his town would have been had he never lived.

Ultimately in this happily-ever-after tale George returns to his wife, his children, his friends, his work, his town, and gives thanks for his bounteous life.

In this Long Wharf production, director Eric Ting cleverly stages his on-radio show. He does not keep his five actors locked in behind their mikes, but moves them about the stage -- chatting, sipping coffee, and awaiting their turns -- as it might have been in the Golden Age of radio. As a result, the actors come alive, moving in and out of the George Bailey story. Ting is blessed with an excellent cast. The five actors (Dan Domingues, Kate MacCluggage, Alex Moggridge, Kevyn Morrow, and Ariel Woodiwiss), are given ample opportunity to show their considerable versatility in assuming numerous roles. Moggridge, in particular, is spectacular as the beleaguered George Bailey.

In short, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a fine way to observe the spirit of this holiday season.

 

This review also appears on nytheaterscene.com

 

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