Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
This Wonderful Life
I hate It's a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra's 1946 salute to sentimentality and slurpy dialogue. When I'm forced to sit through the film once again (people do invite me over occasionally and then show this awful movie), I prepare myself for that pivotal moment when Jimmy Stewart gets ready to jump off the bridge. I shout, "Jump, jump, save us from the rest of the nonsense." Cary Grant and Jean Arthur were scheduled to play the leads in the movie. They showed good sense by jumping.
So, with fear and trepidation, I went to the Cleveland Play House to see a one-man version of This Wonderful Life. This stage version of the movie script was conceived by Mark Setlock and written by Steve Murray. This version has one man play all of the characters.
James Leaming seems to have made a holiday-season career playing This Wonderful Life around the country. When the Cleveland run of this show ends, Leaming will take the production to Texas and perform for a fundraiser for breast cancer research.
Peter Amster, director, helped tailor Leaming's performance for this holiday season and for the simple, sparse set designed by Jeffrey W. Dean.
Leaming plays all of the 36 characters in the script. He makes some of the characters sound surprisingly like the actors who played certain characters in the movie. Others have a new sound. Leaming told me after the show that he loves this play and he loves playing all of the characters. His pleasure at being in this production seems obvious. And it's Leaming who makes this production work. He makes each character distinct in posture and in voice. He makes each character believable. He glides effortlessly from character to character as two or more characters have a conversation. This is not a monologue or a series of one-person speeches. Leaming creates real characters interacting with each other.
The show runs 90 minutes, without an intermission. Watching one man, alone on the stage for 90 minutes can be tedious. Leaming provides enough variety to hold the audience's interest.
Leaming makes the story of George Bailey new again and seems to strip a great deal of the sentimentality from the story.
This Wonderful Life adds to the quality of the holiday season in Cleveland through December 19. For ticket information telephone: 216-795-7000, ext. 4 or visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
The Drury Theatre
- David Ritchey