A Step back in Time for some Christmas Spirit

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How it’s New York: An American story performed in New York by a cast of mostly New York actors.
Kristin Griffith, Howard McGillin,  Haley Bond (©Carol Rosegg)

Kristin Griffith, Howard McGillin, Haley Bond (©Carol Rosegg)

How it’s Irish:It is produced by the Irish Repertory Theatre and directed by Charlotte Moore.

It’s a Wonderful Life” at Irish Rep has become something of a Christmas tradition, just as the film has become. Last year when reviewing it, Orla O’Sullivan wrote, “wherever you wind up, it’s a wonderful life, right?” Here’s Philomena Connors’ review of this year’s production.

I watched “Love Actually” the other day as part of my Christmas spirit wake-up week. I still didn’t think much of it 10 years later, but I knew my other holiday standard would not disappoint and was delighted to discover the Irish Rep were producing “Its a Wonderful Life: The Live Radio Play” Instead of a trip to the IFC for their annual screening of the classic, I looked forward to my first live viewing of this beautiful story.

Based on Frank Capra’s original film from 1946, and nicely adapted into a radio play by Anthony Palermo, it is a play within a play. It begins as the cast of the radio production take their seats at WIRT radio station, whose tagline is ‘The Wearing o’ the Green’ (this I assume is for the Irish Rep. audience specifically). The sound effects guy elaborately introduces us to what lies ahead as he empties Post Toasties, a retro cereal, into a bowl and places two boots in it, enacting footprints walking on gravel.

The six actors, (Haley Bond, Rory Duffy, Kristin Griffith, Ian Holcomb, Peter Maloney, Howard McGillin), are caught up in their own chitchat, which is mimed, so the audience get just the gist of their relationships. They proceed to take on the 25 roles used in this radio version (almost the entire film with a few minor exceptions), using only a change of hat and their talent to transform themselves into the each new character. And they wore the hats well. It was quite masterful and a real pleasure to watch actors so closely in their craft (I was sitting in the front row of the full smaller downstairs W. Scott McLucas Theatre). It gave me a real appreciation for their skill. I tried hard to pick one or two of the six that I could single out and pontificate about, but it was tough to highlight one over the other of these fine performances. If put under pressure to single one out, I would highlight Kristin Griffith, who predominantly played the older female characters such as George Bailey’s mother, but also managed a convincing youngest Bailey, Zuzu.

Kristin Griffith, Howard McGillin,  Haley Bond, Peter Maloney (©Carol Rosegg)

Kristin Griffith, Howard McGillin, Haley Bond, Peter Maloney (©Carol Rosegg)

The stage was replete with “On Air” and “Applause'”cues for the live radio audience, as well as commercials from the 1940’s, which provided an enjoyable step back in time to when a product to help alleviate women’s discomfort during the menstrual cycle contained a large portion of alcohol apparently. Ah, the good old days.

It’s a wonderful story and it’s no wonder it has become the classic it now is (even though ironically it was not well received when it was originally released. According to Donna Reid’s daughter who introduced it a few years ago at the IFC, James Stewart blamed her mother for it’s lack of initial success, citing her lack of star power as the reason. (Oy vey Jimmy, not very sportsmanlike.)

It is a powerful tale of the redemptive power of self sacrifice – well, sacrifice of the ego self at least – and a mighty message that has stood the test of time.

Even if you can’t remember the film, you will be enwrapped in the world of George Bailey and the novice angel, Clarence.

Get thee to the Irish Rep. before this short run ends on Dec 29th and get engulfed in the Christmas Spirit before the season ends.

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