It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play
Reviewed by Lovell Estell III
Through December 17
Most of us are familiar with Frank Capra’s much-loved movie about George Bailey (memorialized in the film by Jimmy Stewart), whose life turns so desperately bad on Christmas Eve that he contemplates suicide, but is rescued by an angel from heaven. This adaptation by Jim Martyka offers the enchantment of that story plus a sweet nostalgic trip back to long-ago days when all that was needed for family entertainment were sound effects, voices and a decent radio.
It’s 1946, and we’re in the studio of radio KAWL, where studio head Michael Anderson (Carey Matthews) and the staff are preparing for what could be their last broadcast. Times are bad for radio; studios are closing, and the new age of television is dawning. One by one the performers arrive, giddy with Xmas spirit, or from spirits of the liquid variety. One such person is Victor Saul (Samwise Aaron), who arrives wearing a full-length mink coat and quaffing lustily from a flask. It’s one of many humorous moments that emerge during this show, where much of the humor is driven by the unexpected and/or the light-hearted antics of the characters before and during the broadcast.
As in the old days, director Jenn Scuderi Crafts’ sizable cast plays all the roles, and for the most part they do an excellent job. George Bailey’s tale unfolds in a clunky fashion, and at times it gets hard to follow (though in all fairness you can’t expect storytelling with cinematic fluidity here). Numerous breaks for “a word from our sponsors,” impart a resonance of authenticity, and the show features some fetching a cappella vocals. Ann Hurd’s studio mock-up consisting of standing microphones and a concave assemblage of chairs for the performers is simple and effective, and includes a desk of nifty sound effect gadgetry, skillfully worked by “house manager” Judy Anderson (Emily Donn).
Theatre Unleashed, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Dec. 17. (818) 849-4039 or www.theatreunleashed.org Running time: one hour and 50 minutes with no intermission.