Trinity Repertory Company is well on its way to establishing a new Christmastime tradition in Rhode Island. It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play recreates the beloved 1946 Jimmy Stewart/Donna Reed film as a 1940s-style radio production, complete with an on-air announcer, a tireless Foley artist and a live studio audience.
It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey, a selfless man from small-town Bedford Falls who values compassion above gain and always puts others’ needs before his own. George defers his dreams to maintain his family’s business – the Bailey Building and Loan – as it perpetually hovers on the brink of financial misfortune. In spite of the challenges, George Lives a life of unsparing service to his community and is rich in the love of his family and good friends. Yet, on one fateful Christmas, an unscrupulous business rival threatens to ruin George’s reputation, rob his freedom and jeopardize the very survival of the Building and Loan. Only Heavenly intervention keeps George from the ultimate act of despair.
The radio play format of Trinity’s production brings out the very best in the TRC cast. Mauro Hantman plays George, depicting the character at every stage in life from childhood to adulthood. While subtle variations in costume (adding or subtracting a suit jacket, straightening a tie) signal these changes to the “in studio” audience, Hantman’s skillful modulation of his tone of voice even more fully indicates alterations in George Bailey’s age, maturity level and point of view. Hantman powerfully delivers George’s despairing appeal to Heaven and he delivers a deeply affecting performance with the prayer’s answer, a supernatural vision that reaffirms the far-reaching impact of one good man’s life.
George’s wife, Mary, is delightfully played by Rachael Warren who ably matures George’s adorable girl-next-door sweetheart into the strong, loving and self-sacrificing Mrs. Bailey. Joe Wilson, Jr., Anne Scurria and Timothy Crowe each play multiple roles, oftentimes with only a split second to switch between voices, temperament and attitude for each character. Wilson is especially strong as Clarence, the endearing “Angel, Second Class” sent to aid George Bailey and, perhaps, earn his wings in the process. Scurria deftly handles multiple roles and shines in each, from the authoritative chief angel who assigns Clarence’s earthly mission to the very littlest of the Bailey children. Timothy Crowe’s lightning fast switches between personalities are truly remarkable, and he brilliantly delivers the scenes where two of his most diverse characters – the cantankerous, shrewd businessman Mr. Potter and the kindhearted if absent-minded Uncle Billy Bailey – converse with each other. Crowe never once falters in his portrayal and presents these complex exchanges with seeming effortlessness.
Benjamin Inniger serves as the production’s Foley artist and, truly, his work is an art form. Inniger skillfully creates the sounds of thin ice cracking, doors opening and closing, approaching footsteps and even the howling winds of a winter storm with an intriguing array of common, everyday objects. The Foley work is a show in itself and it never for a moment distracts from the other players; the voice actors and sound effects work together in an entirely seamless, organic fashion.
Trinity Rep’s It’s a Wonderful Life is a fantastic show for all ages. The production utilizes a most entertaining and imaginative form of storytelling and also provides a wonderful venue to introduce a new generation of audience members to the magic of the radio play form.
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is at Trinity Repertory Company’s first-floor Dowling Theater through December 31, 2011. Tickets are available online at www.trinityrep.com, by phone (401) 351-4242, or by visiting the box office at 201 Washington Street, Providence, RI. Regular ticket prices range from $42-$66; contact the box office for details on rush tickets and discounts available for subscribers, groups of 10 or more, students and seniors.