Reviewed by Judy Richter
Marin Theatre Company dramatizes these simple truths in its production of "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play." Adapted by Joe Landry from director Frank Capra's now-classic film, this version takes place in a New York City radio studio on Christmas Eve, 1946. Five actors portray actors who create all of the beloved characters as well as the sound effects and commercials in front of a live studio (theater) audience.
In this production well-directed by Jon Tracy, Gabriel Marin stars as George Bailey, the character created by James Stewart in the 1946 film. His wife, Mary, the Donna Reed role, is played by Sarah Overman. Carrie Paff plays all of the other female characters, while Patrick Kelly Jones and Michael Gene Sullivan portray the other male characters. Sullivan also serves as the emcee, warming up the audience before the show starts.
Set in the small town of Bedford Falls shortly after the end of World War II, the story revolves around the night that George, discouraged that his bank is about to go under, considers committing suicide. Instead, he's distracted by his guardian angel, Clarence (Jones), who's dispatched from heaven to earn his wings by saving George. He does so by showing George all the bad things that would have happened if he'd never been born. In short, many people would be a lot worse off, and Bedford Falls would have been taken over by the greedy, heartless Mr. Potter (Sullivan). But before Clarence descends to Earth, he learns about George's early life, his dreams and the reality of how he came so close to ending it all.
While Marin and Overman play only one role each, the other three actors have a chance to display their versatility, which they do commendably. Since we first meet Paff as Violet, the town flirt, costume designer Callie Floor has outfitted her in a flattering, form-fitting dress. Nevertheless, it serves her well as Paff portrays little girls as well as older women, all convincingly.
Jones is especially notable as Clarence, the low-key guardian angel, while Sullivan appears as some of the older men, including Mr. Potter and befuddled Uncle Billy. Overman is sweetly appealing as Mary. Marin does a credible job as George, but he can become too loud and overwrought, especially near the end.
Besides acting and creating sound effects, the actors sing music by composer and sound designer Chris Houston. Eric Sinkkonen's set, complemented by Michael Palumbo's lighting, is a suitably cluttered radio studio complete with "Applause" and "On the Air" signs. Seren Helday, credited as properties designer, apparently was responsible for the items needed to create realistic sound effects for a radio audience.
This two-act, 105-minute production is a great way to see a holiday favorite in a new light and to enjoy watching some of the Bay Area's best actors.
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