‘Wonderful Life,’ Wonderful Message

‘Wonderful Life,’ Wonderful Message

Courtesy Photo
The six-member cast of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” portray more than 40 characters that populate the play and the play within the play.

T2 creates radio play within a play

LARA JO HIGHTOWER
lhightower@nwadg.com

“Strange, isn’t it?” says angel Clarence Odbody at a pivotal point of the 1946 classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Though the iconic film wasn’t exactly a box office smash upon its release, it has since earned a place as an American favorite and has become required holiday viewing. The story of George Bailey — his crisis of faith and his ultimate redemption — has a weighty heft to it that a lot of other holiday entertainment is missing, says Jeff Church, director of TheatreSquared’s “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.”

“There’s just so many layers to it, for me,” says Church. “Some of the Christmas stuff is pretty light and frothy, but this one has texture. It’s denser. It has integrity.”

This version of the beloved classic is framed as a play within a play: A 1940s radio theater troupe is presenting the story as a radio broadcast, performed before a live studio audience.

“There is an outer frame of actors that are playing characters inside the play,” explains Church. “For example, Mischa [Hutchings] and Justin [Walker] are playing Jake Lawrence and Sally Applewhite, who are then playing George and Mary in the play. So we have two planes of existence. In the pre-show, the audience will ‘catch’ the actors warming up, and there will be a sense of who the people are as they check their props and get everything ready — so they’ll get to frame a little bit of what the characters are like.”

Hutchings and Walker acknowledge the challenge of playing such iconic roles.

“I did have the struggle of trying not to have line readings stuck in my head,” says Walker. “It’s such a well-made film, and I watched it all the time growing up. It became a panic for me as I was going through the lines.” Walker says the conceit of the play — that it’s the character of Jake who is playing the character of George Bailey — was helpful in this regard. “Having the frame story sets so much about what the character of Jake is going through and what he’s dealing with. He has a lot of mental health issues that he’s fighting after returning from the war, and he’s jumping into the play and learning about it as he goes along. Being able to get on that ride really helped me to put everything else out of my head as I flowed in and out of those two worlds.”

Church says the story is perfect fodder for a radio play.

Courtesy Photo
Mischa Hutchings and Justin Walker bring the iconic roles of Mary and George Bailey to life in T2’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.”

“We definitely give homage to the original, but I do love that it’s not a literal play, where we’re trying to stage the different scenes in a literal way, like at the house, or at the bank — your imagination has to do all of that work, because you get the sounds, you hear the voices, you see the images of the actors with little costumes to help, but really, the audience’s imagination will be called upon,” he says.

Including Hutchings and Walker, the show features a cast of six. Hutchings and Walker portray two characters each, while Bill Rogers, Elroy Hawkins, Chris Tennyson and Betsy Jilka tackle over 40 characters among them, a feat that is beyond entertaining for an audience to watch. Also entertaining? Watching the actors on stage manipulate a panoply of everyday objects in order to create the sound effects accompanying their lines.

“You can’t beat the fun of plungers, wash tubs and sloshing water — all kinds of different sounds,” says Church. “Rubbing tissue paper and cellophane together for fire. We now know every variation on how to shut a door. There are all kinds of variations of that. It’s a big part of the script.”

“The door may have a bigger role than me,” agrees Hutchings, who is responsible for the majority of the sound effects.

In the end, though, it’s the message of the play that will really stick with audience members.

“It has genuine hope,” says Hutchings. “I think that’s something that’s maybe missed by some holiday shows. There’s room for those shows, too, because we all want to feel light and happy. But you go through this journey with George — and with Jake, as well — and you’re really able to feel that sense of hope.

“That’s sort of what this season is all about, isn’t it? To be thankful for this life that we have.”

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FAQ

‘It’s a Wonderful Life:

A Live Radio Play’

WHEN — Through Dec. 31; Wednesday-Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.

WHERE — TheatreSquared, 505 W. Spring St. in Fayetteville

COST — $10-$47

INFO — 443-5600

Categories: Theater

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