It’s A Wonderful Life

By - Dec 9th, 2008 02:52 pm
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By Christina Sajdak Lucchesi

The Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove was host to a rather sedate house Saturday night as it presented James W. Rodgers’ adaptation of the Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life. Theater-goers braved the cold this opening weekend, but a story notorious for its warmth, did not, in this rendition, inspire enough to thaw out the chilly audience.

The play, true to the film version in most respects, winds through the events of protagonist George Bailey’s life as they go from good to bad to worse, leading him, ultimately, to contemplate his life’s worth. Standing atop a bridge at the precipice of life and death, George encounters his guardian angel, Clarence, who, with permission from above, grants him a wish. George is given the opportunity to witness life as though he had never been born. Act One, chronicling events prior to George’s wish is solid, well-developed and builds to a dramatic climax nicely. The events, post-angelic encounter, are by contrast, hurried and the pacing forced. Without allotting the time necessary for the development of this important aspect of the story the audience never quite identifies with the desperation and anguish felt by George as he encounters loved ones who no longer recognize him and whose lives, without his influence, have gone awry. The emotional connection with the hero at this important stage of the play, the identification with his grief and regret, is vital if we are to experience along with him the enormous relief and joy by play’s end. Instead, this production wraps up all too quickly without the catharsis and emotional punch audiences have come to expect.

The production, in keeping with the tenor of the film, sets the story in the 1940s, with costumes and set pieces well-chosen and appropriate to the era. Unfortunately, the multi-functional backdrop, modern in concept, sacrifices authenticity for convenience and tends to distract from the overall visual theme.

Although some of the smaller roles were portrayed with reservation and in some cases self-consciousness, the leads and the actors in several secondary roles were spectacular. Ryan Spiering, portrayed the young, wide-eyed George Bailey and his older, beleaguered counterpart to perfection evoking compassion with every gesture, word and expression. Eamonn O’Neill’s interpretation of Mr. Potter, hard-hearted town villain, was impeccable. Charles Hanel as Clarence Oddbody was charming and cherubic. Scott Allen with very little stage time brought Mr. Gower to the fore with the depth and thoughtfulness of his performance. Kara Roeming in her deft portrayal of Mary Bailey exuded the character’s quiet strength, selflessness and irrepressible good cheer in the face of difficulty. She is entirely believable as the instrument that ultimately elicits these traits from the citizens of an entire town.

In Howard Bashinski’s Director’s Notes audiences are reminded of the importance of family and community and the virtue of charity so abundantly demonstrated in this story. What better time to re-instill in our lives these bedrock social principles and what better inspiration for doing so than the timeless story from Bedford Falls.

The Sunset Playhouse presents It’s A Wonderful Life through December 31st. 262-782-4430 or www.sunsetplayhouse.com.

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