The classic tale of frustration leading into suicide and rethinking life choices to bring another year to a close. Once more another look over the bridge and wither come the thoughts of absence.
The host sets the stage in a way that makes you think it’s run out of the present day only to slip with a tongue and throw it all back into the 1940s of some United States east coast region. One by one the actors as actors as characters in a radio play come up the aisles and gear up to stand around a floating microphone that doesn’t work.
It’s a Wonderful Life itself is a relatively short drama and there is no time sitting around to see all these invisible blocks made apparent holding George Bailey steadfast in Bedford Falls. It’s taught, it’s empathetic, it’s gilled with a couple of mock radio commercials in a straight-faced way. The mutterings of Jimmy Stewart certainly fill the air as the years wear on in Bailey.
The whole façade of these fleshy people being actors from the 1940s is left at the introduction and nothing more is used of it. Their voices do overlap in the float down into the town and from there they quite easily drop in and out of character voices for those playing multiple throats.
For the decor and the weird smell that wafts through somewhere in the final third of the performance it’s a classy drop into that time period. It can’t really be smoke, and something more along the nose of an incense, but something is scenting off. Perhaps that kind of oakey afterbirth that stains haggard leather around the radio box broadcasting at such an altitude. Or it’s the night air come back to claim its space.
The foley artists are ripping it up on their end of the stage and play with chunk and change branded and rusty around those times. They’re not using anything that looks like it’s fresh off. Patina, rust and all sorts of age is present (even if artificially recreated as such) in the props they’re whacking off to make the noises and creating the ambience of someone drowning or toasting one off for the night’s revelry. One that rings out odd is the telephone bell. It sounds more like one from a door. They’re deliberate with the atmosphere and pitching in the noise at the right hit.
Taking plant in the front row allows the legs to fully stretch out. And it also means having to see not too hard out of the side of your eye that a man behind you has also chosen to stretch out and plonk a ratty shoe in between the seat armrests. It sits there for the entirety of the play only moving once when spotted and then back out again after realising being a slob is how its owner has given up on life.
If you close your eyes and listen to It’s a Wonderful Life you’ll find yourself back in that snow blasted town of invisible walls in Bedford Falls. To watch them play act and out the dialogue with reams of paper only adds to sitting in the wings watching live radio happen across the waves. It’s a lesson told well in taking stock of what you’re in. Never take it for granted.
Cast: Bruce Rule (George Bailey), Jonathan Hieneman (Mr. Potter and others), Jenny Kawa (Mary Hatch), Sarah Durham (Violet Bick and others), James Mattingly (Clarence Oddbody and others), Andrew Ward (Announcer, Uncle Billy and others), Dave & Nancy Walters (Foley Artists).
In the cold audience of the 19:00 performance on 18 December 2017 at The Center for Rural Development and with no need for an intermission.
Reviewed on Sunday, 31 December 2017