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IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

From the film by Frank Capra & the story by Philip Van Doren Stein
Adapted for the stage by James W. Rodgers

Theatre Arlington

Director - Valerie Galloway Chapa
Stage Manager - Lindsey Campbell
Set Designer - Jack Hardaway
Lighting Designer - Michael Winters
Costume Designer - Chris Hatcher
Sound Designer - Andrea Allmond
Properties Designer/Scenic Artist - Jennye James


CAST

George Bailey - William Kledas
Clarence Odbody - Joe Chapa
Mr. Gower - Jamie Long
Young George/Pete Bailey - Luke Boyce
Harry Bailey - Brian Boyce
Mother Bailey - Linda Rose
Aunt Tilly - Dorothy Lynn Brooks
Violet Peterson - Abigail Herring
Bert - Aaron Lett
Ernie - Greg Foster
Uncle Billy - Harry Liston
Mary Hatch - Erin Elliott
Henry F. Potter - Scott Kimball
Mr. Potter's Goon - Richard Davis
Mr. Potter's Secretary - Katelyn Branson
Mrs. Hatch - Kim Hankins
Sam Wainwright - Kim Hankins
Miss Andrews - Cara Patterson
Mrs. Thompson - Betty Shults
Mr. Martini - Jonathan Wecker
Mrs. Martini - Crystal Zuniga
Mr. Carter - Marvin Pasek
Newspaper Boy/Tommy Bailey - Jakob Wren
Zuzu Bailey - Megan Magill
Mr. Welch - Sam Burkett
Janie Bailey - Catie Williams


Reviewed Performance: 12/4/2011

Reviewed by Danny Macchietto, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

I am going to sit on my metaphorical soap box as I type this review and speak in defense of It's a Wonderful Life? as a film, a play and as an institution.

First, the timeless classic film-version of 1946 seems to have received an unnecessarily bad rap from many avid film-goers and those less cultured alike. There is a complaint that it airs too often on television. There was a time that It's A Wonderful Life could seemingly be seen on any station of any hour, but this is simply no longer the case. For well over a decade the NBC network purchased exclusive rights to air the film and does so only once a year to preserve the integrity of the film's prestige, without saturating the market.

Second, I've heard grumblings from theatre critics, patrons, and actors abound for years, that a film as beloved as Frank Capra's has no right being reproduced as a stage production. I disagree. Capra's life examination of an average man is a grand story with an epic scope. It deserves as much revisiting as The Importance of Being Earnest or To Kill a Mockingbird. Good stories demand to be told no matter the chosen medium.

Third, if you the reader believe that it's okay for It's a Wonderful Life to be viewed in color, instead of its original, pristine black & white glory, then you may stop reading now as this play will not be for you. I, however, am a purist of the film. I regard it as not only one of the greatest films of all time but one that I estimate has been seen by me in its entirety over 50 times. This, because I've never considered it to be simply a holiday film and have been known to plop it in a player during any season.

As directed by Valerie Galloway Chapa, Theatre Arlington's production of It's a Wonderful Life was not a re-interpretation or re-imagining, but a re-creation. There were certainly missteps along the way, but I was taken in by its faithfulness, reverence and the high energy from a well-rounded cast with a solid commitment to the material.

It helped that the script itself managed one specific improvement from the original source material. Adapted by James W. Rodgers, gone was the cheesy storytelling framework with God, Joseph, and Clarence doing voiceovers to blinking stars against a black backdrop. Instead, Mr. Rodgers heightened the action immediately by showing George Bailey at his darkest hour as he was about to throw himself over a bridge into icy, dead waters. The heart of the story had always been the relationship between the angel Clarence and George Bailey. This relationship was wisely chosen as the new framework of George's life.

I admit that I was not determined at the outset to appreciate William Kledas' performance in the role of George Bailey. The cards are stacked against any actor taking on a role originally made famous by the great Jimmy Stewart. His first appearance seemed to be chock full of physical affectations of the character's nervous ticks that seemed mere technique rather than a living, breathing performance; however, by the end of the play Mr. Kledas had won me over with his intense and methodical commitment, especially in the second act when he declined the job offer of working for the hated real estate developer, Mr. Potter, played by Scott Kimball.

Kledas was well-matched to Joe Chapa's Clarence. With his delicate voice, combined with a Sancho Panza physique, Mr. Chapa never pushed too far into the realm of fantasy, and grounded the character in a very real world. He was a perfect fit for the role, although at times he could have afforded to be more playful as he dealt with George's interrogations of his identity.

Erin Elliot played Mary Hatch, George Bailey's wife. The age difference between the two was apparent but never distracting as her costume draped her appropriately to look older. Ms. Elliot was poised and polished, and exhibited very natural maternal instincts that the role required. Styling her hair similar to that of Lana Turner was an appropriate touch and helped to age and mature the actress.

There is a handful of actors that succeed in making his/her role uniquely their own. Kim Hankins was priceless as Mary Hatch's nosy mother. Sam Burkett was very captivating in what few moments he had as Mr. Welch, who was responsible for George's bloody lip. Abigail Herring as Violet Peterson, gave the most convincing contrast between George's reality and George's hypothetical world without him.

The rest of the cast was full of earnest actors, hitting their marks, and keeping the story moving along; however, the story's pace was so quick that the rhythm didn't always feel natural. I believe that director Chapa was aiming for the pacing and rhythm of the original film but the truth was, at over 2 hours in length, the film was just as rapidly paced as this stage version. Frank Capra had the advantage of celluloid to tell this story, editing and framing the shots to expose only what he wanted you to see. Given a live audience, the cast may have been dealing with a hindrance that was unavoidable.

Like the film, this play was remembered for its moments. The famous telephone sequence between Mary and George was present, and it was surprisingly effective from afar, juxtaposed with Sam Wainwright downstage, played by the charming Gary Eoff. The pinnacle moment of George Bailey praying to God, perhaps for the first time, was very chilling.

The transition to a life where George was never born was rough. Out sauntered four of George's old pals in a drunken stupor. Whether written or as directed, this moment rang not only false but it came across as farcical and upstaged the dramatic entrance of Mr. Gower. A lack of contrast to this scene made it difficult to trust the rest of the George was never born sequence. Thankfully, Linda Rose was effective enough as Mother Bailey, and the un-reunion of George and Mary was hauntingly jarring.

Scenic artist Jennye James, Costume Designer Chris Hatcher, and Set Designer Jack Hardaway did a remarkable job with the look and style of this production. It would have been a cheat to fill the space with an array of color; however, you can't name a character "Violet" and not put her in something symbolic of their namesake. The stage was wisely dark and muted with all the characters costumed in slick gray 3-piece suits or black skirts. All of this combined to make the faces of the actors pop out, and this elevated the re-creation of the film to as close to the feel of a black and white film as you can get and still be a live stage production.

This also allowed director Chapa the opportunity to create many lovely stage compositions of which she took full advantage. The George and Mary phone conversation segueing right into the wedding was a lovely touch.

I am told by my colleagues that It's a Wonderful Life is a part of Theatre Arlington's holiday rotation. I hope it continues to be a part of their traditional repertoire. It is not a perfect production, but there are so many elements going for it that I believe this production will be worth nurturing over time.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
Theatre Arlington, 3101 West Lancaster Avenue
Arlington, TX 76107

Runs through December 18th

Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm, Sundays at 5:30 pm
Tickets are $17 for adults, $12 for children, $13.50 EA for
groups of 10 or more.

For tickets call 817-275-7661, Monday ? Friday, 1 to 5:30 pm, Saturday 10am to
1pm or purchase online at www.theatrearlington.org
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