Ian Holcomb, Orlagh Cassidy, Aaron Gaines, and
Dewey Caddell photos by Carol Rosegg
by Deirdre Donovan
all the holiday shows in New York this season, none is as life-affirming as It’s
a Wonderful Life: The Live Radio Play. This stage adaptation of Frank
Capra’s classic film returns to the Irish Repertory Theatre and is the perfect
mood elevator for anybody who finds December a cold and bleak month.
isn’t a straightforward presentation of Frank Capra’s 1946 film, starring James
Stewart and Donna Reed. Written by Anthony E. Palermo, it’s a simulation of a
live radio broadcasting of It’s a Wonderful Life.
don’t expect to sit back and passively watch this faux radio broadcast on
stage. Viewers are invited to become de facto audience members at the
“broadcast,” and on cue, applaud the proceedings. In fact, during the pre-show
stage business, the radio announcer (Ian Holcomb) breaks the fourth wall and
coaches audience members on the finer points of applause. With this mastered,
more or less, he then instructs everybody to clap enthusiastically whenever the
neon sign “APPLAUSE” above the stage lights up. Whether one wants to call this
pre-show rehearsal a kind of actor-audience interaction, or simply how a cast
gets a round of applause in a hurry, it definitely added to the fun of this
action unfolds in a series of vignettes that all take place in the radio station,
realistically designed by James Morgan. The lighting scheme by Brian Nason
makes effective use of a wintry white palette. The live sound design by Zach
Williamson is at its best when homespun (think of the click-clacking of shoes
on a wooden surface to suggest the passage of years). And the period costume
design by Barbara Bell is right on the button.
acting ensemble--Aaron Gaines, Haley Bond, Dewey Caddell, Ian Holcomb, Orlagh
Cassidy, and Rory Duffy--are all excellent under Charlotte Moore’s direction.
As George Bailey, Gaines demonstrates his range by conveying, in turn, stark
desperation, bewilderment, earnestness, and devotion. Bond, playing opposite
him, is a good foil for her stage husband, projecting the conventional feminine
virtues of loyalty, sacrifice, and total support of her man. Another standout
is Caddell, who plays five roles, morphing from the angelic Clarence to the
villainous Mr. Potter, and then rotating from Pop Bailey to the druggist Mr.
Gower and the Italian café owner Martini. Indeed, the six-member cast summon
up 25 characters in all during this 70-minute presentation, with nary a
Haley Bond and Aaron Gaines
keeping with her work with the actors, Moore succeeds in creating a mood on
stage that mirrors the gritty milieu of a radio station. Moore has adroitly
blocked the piece that begins with the casual banter at a radio station, segues
to 1940s commercials, and then transitions to the narrative at large. In
short, one gets an authentic flavor, not only of the classic, but of the
broader American culture during the Truman era.
on the Capra classic? Well, here’s the chestnut in a nutshell: Set in Bedford
Falls on Christmas Eve in 1946, the plot revolves around the kind-hearted but
despondent George Bailey, who is on the verge of jumping to his death from a
bridge. Clarence, George’s guardian angel who still hopes to earn his wings,
miraculously intervenes and shows the suicidal George how his life has
positively impacted upon others in Bedford Falls.
story is a celebration of small-town life in America. In the vein of Thornton
Wilder’s Our Town, it points out the old-fashioned virtues of family
life, hard work, and civic responsibility. In a series of flashbacks, the
audience is clued in on George Bailey’s personal history: how George rescued
his younger brother when he fell through the ice, saved a child from being
poisoned by tainted medication, married his sweetheart and raised a family, and
reluctantly took over his late-father’s building and loan business. While it
highlights George’s positive character traits, it also reveals how the harsh
realities of his life thwarted his dreams of doing something “great” for
on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, It’s a Wonderful Life has
become a staple of the holiday season. But its message of goodwill truly
transcends any calendar day and can be savored long after the last cup of
a piece of theater, this adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life is
winning. Palermo has managed to pare the narrative down to the bone without
losing any of its beloved scenes and lines. Yes, you will still hear the
film’s most famous line spoken by Zuzu Bailey: “Every time a bell rings . . .
an angel gets their wings.” But even better, you’ll be able to join in with
the entire cast at the finale to sing a rousing version of “Auld Lang Syne.”
this show has an all-too-brief run and wings out of the Irish Repertory Theatre
on December 31st. So catch it now or catch it never.
the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, Manhattan.
tickets and more information, phone (212) 727-2737 or
Time: approximately 70 minutes.