Peggy Sue Dunigan

Sunset’s “Wonderful Life” a bittersweet end for Salentine

By - Nov 30th, 2010 04:00 am
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George Bailey stands at the bridge railing high above the set at the Sunset Playhouse, on both a literal and emotional brink: is he worth more dead than alive? The beloved holiday story fittingly begins and ends there, as Sunset Playhouse presents Frank Capra’s 1946 classic film adaptation of It’s A Wonderful Life.

Richard Wenzel as Clarence watches over George.

A depressing twist on opening weekend mixes theatrics with reality as Sunset’s Artistic Director and Acting Director for this production, Mark Salentine, announces his seven-year position has been eliminated at the 50-year-old organization. From the stage, Salentine explains that when dreams drift away under everyday pressures, a wonderful life lies behind and in his future.

Back on the brink of the set bridge, George Bailey (Randall T. Anderson) meets his guardian angel, AS2, Clarence Oddbody, who shows him his past deeds and what life would be without him. One rarely contemplates what differences there would be if “they hadn’t been born,” and Clarence insightfully insists to George, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives that when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Anderson leaves no holes in his performance, and holds the cast, story and Capra’s script, adapted by James Rodgers, together with profound believability. He acts, appears and sounds as someone the audience could connect to without any false sentiment, including the self-sacrificing George Bailey. Anderson’s affection for childhood sweetheart Mary Hatch, played by the lovely Ruth Arnell, reflects a deep commitment that again binds the production with genuine sincerity.

Richard Wenzel, an engaging 80-year old actor, narrates George’s life from the second story bridge as the angel trying to earn his wings after 200 years.

Randall T. Anderson as George Bailey in the Sunset’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”

The audience sees the set transform through lighting designer Marty Waller’s clever backdrops projected above the changing scenes. This coordinates with Michael Desper’s rotating set designs which quickly and seamlessly move George from setting to setting around Bedford Falls. The green and red color scheme somewhat distracts from the stage action and works better with a more neutral background, like the one used when Clarence transports George to Pottersville because he no longer exists.

The stage adaptation misses some finer details the film’s fans will miss, yet when the community rallies to support George in the production finale the message that every life contributes through unique events resounds loud and clear. Sunset Playhouse charmingly recaptures this seasonal cheer amid contemporary economic disappointments and continual world apprehensions in the Far East.

Everyone may identify with George Bailey at times, especially at the holidays, wishing a guardian angel could show them the light in their own dreams and life. What an extraordinary (and serendipitous) Sunset production at the year’s end to wish Mark Salentine and the theater he loves into a very wonderful new life.

Elm Grove’s Sunset Playhouse presents It’s A Wonderful Life through December 19. Buy tickets online or by phone at 262.782.4430

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Theater

0 thoughts on “Sunset’s “Wonderful Life” a bittersweet end for Salentine”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the great review. To clarify one of those fuzzy lines of theatrical responsibility, the projections were designed by set designer Michael Desper. As lighting designer, it was my job not to wash them away.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Marty. We also fixed the spelling of your name. So sorry for the error.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the wish of a “very wonderful new life.” I’ll hope that Santa’s bringing it! (Then again, I’m not sure if I’ve been a good boy…)

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