NOW it feels like the holiday season. Escape today’s uber-fraught world for 70 glorious minutes at Irish Repertory’s intimate W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre. Attend a live 1946 broadcast based on Frank Capra’s iconic film It’s a Wonderful Life. Watch actors dressed in pitch perfect period street clothes (by Barbara Bell) gather at station W I R T, The Hearin’ O’ The Green, (mostly unused) scripts in hand, each morphing into multiple characters with speed, specificity, and charm.
In 2012, I reviewed this radio play with enthusiasm at Irish Rep. It might easily become an annual event. For those who have lived under a rock, a plot reminder:
Haley Bond and Aaron Gaines
Young George Bailey (Aaron Gaines) of Bedford Falls selflessly gives up college “Omonna build things!” and travel in order to repeatedly rescue his family’s Savings and Loan shoring up the community he loves. His brother Harry (Ian Holcomb) takes advantage of higher education, but doesn’t replace George as planned. Mary Hatch (Haley Bond) a discreetly wise girl with whom George realizes he’s in love, remains patient and wins him. Mr. Potter (Dewey Caddell) who owns half the town, does everything he can, legal and illegal, to bring down the organization.
We all remember how a final, seemingly insurmountable mishap provoked by absentminded Uncle Billy (Ian Holcomb), sends George spiraling into despair and that sweet, bumbling Clarence, ASC, Angel Second Class (Dewey Caddell) helps our hero by showing him how radically different the small town and its denizens would be had George never been born.
Ian Holcomb, Orlagh Cassidy, Aaron Gaines, Dewey Caddell
After initial flurried entrance from an outer door, adapter Anthony E. Palermo’s concise adaptation has the wisdom not to give us a glimpse of the actors’ personalities. All six quietly read or have a glass of water during commercial breaks for such as Lucky Strike Cigarettes and Carter’s Little Liver Pills – Is YOUR liver doing its job?! – which are delivered by players in turn. The deftly executed script covers all important touchstones in heart-warmingly familiar scenes with abbreviated dialogue.
It’s great fun to watch the studio SFX artist (Rory Duffy) create atmosphere with cued sounds: a doorbell, siren, wind, thunder, organ music, footsteps (boots on a bowl of Post Toasties Corn Flakes), clattering dinner plates, the bell sound of an angel getting his wings, etc. and to watch Duffy get involved with the story rather than sitting back between responsibilities. (His anger and frustration with Mr. Potter is palpable.) The actor additionally steps into several characters with gusto and skill.
Aaron Gaines’ thoroughly credible George is fresh, forthright, eager, and invested, keeping the axis on which the play turns steady as she goes. Haley Bond imbues Mary with femininity and a sense of being securely grounded. Quicksilver emotions are especially visible during a phone call from the girl’s New York suitor. Orlagh Cassidy inhabits all the other women showcasing divers accents and a wide age range with trans-formative artistry. Ian Holcomb welcomes and instructs the audience, then portrays a roster of straight-arrow secondary characters.
Standout Dewey Caddell steps into innocent Clarence, rotten Mr. Potter, and quite a few personas between. Like Cassidy, he’s a master of varied accents, tone, and attitude. The actor is vibrant on stage.
Haley Bond, Aaron Gaines, Dewey Caddell, Rory Duffy
Director Charlotte Moore has created a believable double scenario from the naturalness of station W I R T and its wry-to-us commercials to the play within the play which captivates from the get-go. Characters are well defined, turn on a dime, and relate as if a long time company.
Once again James Morgan’s evocative Set creates the detailed environment of a time worn studio festooned with holiday cheer. ON AIR and APPLAUSE signs light up/are utilized, our audience responding to the latter as directed. Microphones are dated. The clock works! Brian Nason’s excellent Lighting Design is painterly before the room comes alive. Zach Williamson’s Live Sound Design is top notch.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Ian Holcomb, Orlagh Cassidy, Aaron Gaines, and Dewey Caddell
It’s A Wonderful Life- A Live Radio Play
Adapted by Anthony E. Palermo
Directed by Charlotte Moore
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Though December 31, 2017