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Herald Times Preview for It’s a Wonderful Life
Ken Pimple on “It’s a Wonderful Life”
It takes a certain degree of chutzpah for an all-volunteer, amateur, community theater to produce a play based on one of the best-known and best-loved Christmas movies in America, but in the last few years, the Monroe County Civic Theater has exemplified Robert Browning’s adage that we “should exceed [our] grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” (slightly paraphrased from “Andrea del Sarto”).
It’s a Wonderful Life has a great deal to say about grasping for good and evil, and Heaven is never far away while the adversary lurks uncomfortably near. It is suitable that the play is held at Sherwood Oaks Christian Church in a performance space an order of magnitude more comfortable and beautiful than I have experienced other MCCT productions. In addition, the cast numbering north of 40 is the largest in my memory, of which at least a fourth are impressive actors and the rest no less than very good. The play is heartwarming and heart breaking in turns. I laughed many times and tears came to my eyes four or five times.
The play begins with a beautiful rendition of “Bleak Midwinter” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by the Sherwood Oaks Choir. For me, the most moving and amusing scenes include:
● young George Bailey’s (Sam Durnil) saving Mr. Gower (Frank Buczolich), the pharmacist, from accidentally poisoning a child;
● Violet Pemberton’s flirtations (Maggie Coats as young Violet and Tayler Fischer as adult) with George;
● the Charleston scene, set to “In the Mood,” in which a dozen dancers kick up their heels with energy and style until the floor parts and the partiers fall or jump into the pool;
● the touching, then hilarious, conversation between adult George (Brant Hughes) and Mary Hatch, later Bailey (Yolanda Valdivia), in which Mr. Hughes is actually funnier than Jimmy Stewart is in the movie;
● Mr. Bailey (Steve Scott) challenging and supporting his son;
● Mr. Bailey’s off-stage funeral heralded by Tim Thompson humming, then singing, “Amazing Grace,” in a lovely and painful moment;
● and the tension in the run on the Baileys’ Building and Loan in the 1929 crash, nearly bringing it down, and the joy when it is saved.
And that is only a taste of Act 1 of 2.
I must mention the key roles and their talented actors not already mentioned. Clarence Odbody, the angel (Pip Chamberlain), is earnest, appropriately simple, and bit silly. Mr. Potter (Roy Sillings) channels Lionel Barrymore in his full avaricious, miserly, covetous, scheming, and hateful disgrace. Uncle Billy (Steve Heise) is affectionate, good-humored, and bumbling. The children are as adorable as possible.
The simple scenery is effective, the sound excellent, and the period music played in the many scene changes helps to maintain the atmosphere. At the close, the cast was honored with a well- deserved standing ovation.
I hope that MCCT and the Sherwood Oaks Church will work together again soon.