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By R. Eli Townsend
Special to The PREVIEW
By all accounts, Thingamajig Theatre Company’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” has been a critical and box office hit.
The performances are deep, pacing is tight and the production moves with the fluid purr of a well-oiled machine.
It’s a nostalgic trip to a simpler time that the people of any age will appreciate.
This weekend is your last chance to catch the outstanding production at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts.
Adapted for the stage by Joe Landry from the classic 1946 Frank Capra film, the play features five actors gathered before a live studio audience to tell the story of a poor, small-town savings-and-loan operator who discovers his true wealth lies in family, friendship, love and goodwill.
The play takes place in 1946, in the immaculate WBFR “Playhouse of the Air” radio studio. After some quick introductions of the period-costumed cast, the “On the Air” sign illuminates and for the next 85 minutes, the cast recreates the events, sounds in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, circa 1944.
Although it’s designed as a radio show, with actors reading from scripts behind microphones, there’s a lot of dramatic action in Thingamajig’s production. The radio “actors” interact with the audience, and they use both their voices and bodies to tell the story. It’s also fascinating to watch the actors create an aural landscape with the likes of homemade noisemakers, musical instruments and household items put to strange, new uses.
For those not familiar with “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it’s the heart-tugging story of George Bailey, whose plan to leap to his death on Christmas Eve is foiled by an enterprising guardian angel named Clarence Oddbody. Bailey, distraught over the impending failure of his savings and loan (which has financed the homes of the town’s middle class and immigrant populations), believes that his family and community would be better off if he’d never been born.
He learns otherwise when Clarence grants his wish. Without George to save him, his brother Harry (a heroic WW II pilot who saved many lives) would’ve drowned in an accident as a boy; his first boss, the druggist Mr. Gower, would’ve accidentally dispensed poison and gone to prison; his wife, Mary, would’ve ended up an old maid; and the town and its citizens (without an affordable lending association) would’ve fallen into the greedy clutches of the evil banker/slumlord Old Man Potter. Renewed in spirit, George returns home to find that his community — grateful for all he has done over the years to help them and the town — has united to save his business from bankruptcy. It’s a story guaranteed to put a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes.
The movie runs well over two hours, but the radio version has been artfully tightened by more than a half-hour, yet still includes all of the film’s highlights and best comic lines. There are also a few station breaks for comically dated commercials like hair tonic and household soap.
With period costumes, dramatic lighting and a well-appointed ’40s-era set, “It’s a Wonderful Life” takes the audience member back in time to an era when radio was king and Capra’s sentimental films about the triumph of the common man were an inspiration. The story still inspires today, and thanks to Thingamajig’s first-class production, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has just as much power to move an audience now as it did 60 years ago.
Thingamajig Theatre Company presents “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” directed by Tim Moore. Rated G and appropriate for all audiences.
Show times and dates through Dec. 23 are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets are on sale now by visiting www.pagosacenter.org or by calling 731-SHOW.