ON THE AIR Crowe, Warren, and Hantman.
For theatergoers not sufficiently uplifted this holiday season by Trinity Repertory Company's production of A Christmas Carol, the troupe is presenting a second annual feel-good offering, It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, in the downstairs theater through December 31.
The show debuted last year and, having induced sufficient warm glows, will likely continue as a yearly event; it's being directed by Tyler Dobrowski, who co-helmed its premiere with Curt Columbus.
Adapted by Joe Landry from the 1946 Frank Capra classic starring Jimmy Stewart, it's being presented as a live radio drama from that period, complete with old-fashioned microphones and sound effects.
Staging the play that way works surprisingly well. You might think that watching a script being read would get boring, no matter how animated the participants. But it's fun, like being a studio audience witnessing the proceedings back then.
For those raised by wolves and only recently found, here's a brief synopsis: Earning his wings, Angel 2nd-Class Clarence is sent to Earth to prevent a despondent George Bailey from jumping into an icy river to kill himself. Cleverly, Clarence jumps in first so that he'll be rescued. But George is head of a savings-and-loan bank where $8000 is missing, and he still figures that he's worth more dead than alive. When he mutters in passing that he wishes he'd never been born, the angel latches on to the notion and, lo and behold, George is in a world that has never benefited from his presence.
That means his kid brother never shoots down two Japanese fighter planes that would have sunk a troop transport — George wasn't there to rescue him from falling through the ice and drowning. And so forth. Most importantly for the people of Bedford Falls, there was no self-sacrificing George to save the small-town savings-and-loan by continuing to put his life on hold in order to keep it going. Instead, wealthy and greedy curmudgeon Henry Potter took over, good working folk couldn't get mortgages to own their homes, and the town became a neon honky-tonk. Of course George can't have that, especially because his wife becomes a timid spinster without him. So George happily goes back to his old life, money problem put in perspective.
Familiarity with the story is an essential part of being an optimistic American. That comes right after the Pledge of Allegiance in the naturalization exam.
We and the peppy cast of the WBFR Playhouse of the Air have a grand old time as the tale unfolds. Much of that has to do with watching the actors remain the same as their voices morph into distinctly different characters. The widest range of contrast is accomplished by Timothy Crowe. In one brisk sequence we hear the voice of flibbertigibbet Uncle Billy, the numbskull who lost the $8000, followed by the gruff villain Mr. Potter, and then the dignified voice of Mr. Bailey, George's father.
An hour of the 90 minutes goes by before George is transported to the world without him, and the sequence is as absorbing to us as it is to its victim. The lights go down, the microphones are taken away, and Mauro Hantman is alone on the stage as the perplexed George, being the character rather than just reading his words. The others are offstage voices, until Rachael Warren appears as the spinster librarian, frightened by this crazy man who insists he is her husband.