TAM's This Wonderful Life Is a Holiday Valentine
Murray has remained true to the script and plotline, but he tells the story through the versatile and virtuoso talents of a single actor, Mike Anthony, who plays all the roles in a dramatic monologue that encapsulates some of the well-known dialogue together with a succinct and agile narration. Indeed, Murray's protagonist plays not only George Bailey, but the entire other spectrum of characters, including the angel Clarence, while also, rather like Our Town's Stage Manager, stepping in and out of character to comment on the action. The result is a touching tale that sidesteps too much sentimentality, steering to humor, even witty and sometimes detached commentary.
Such a deceptively simple concept requires a deft and fearless production, and TAM gives it just that. Director Dawn McAndrews' hand is delightfully disguised and subtle, but the impact and inspiration are felt. It is as if she conspires with her actor, and with the audience, to bring to life the timeless spirit of this classic. She devises simple and workable ways for Anthony to make the transitions from character to character and place to place. And the use of flickering stage lights for the angel voices is a lovely touch.
As always at TAM, less is more in terms of stage design, given the splendor of the theatre itself. Jim Alexander provides a simple set, built out over the orchestra pit, consisting of a few signs, some tasteful furniture and props, cozy directional and atmospheric lighting. Rew Tippin provides an excellent sound design, supplying old style sound effects, period songs, and the familiar film voices when required.
The success of the venture, however, rests on the shoulders of Mike Anthony who singlehandedly brings to life all of Capra's characters. It is a virtuoso performance that paradoxically does not call gratuitous attention to itself. It builds slowly, hitting stride after a few scenes, and soars to its final revelation. Anthony has the vocal variety to move gracefully from Georgewith a clever node to Jimmy Stewartto Clarence to Uncle Billy to Mr. Potter to Mary with ease, but it is his physical mastery of the spectrum that is most impressive; he transforms with chameleon suppleness from personage to personage, structuring a subtle clarity of transition along the way.
Most impressive perhaps is the well-known conclusion of the film which Capra calculated to bring tears to his audience and to those of generations to come. Here, the familiar lump rises in the throat, but as befitting a 21st century, it is a bit more restrained, a bit more reserved, a bit more hard wonand as such all the more heartwarming.
This Wonderful Life runs through December 8 at the Theater at Monmouth, 796 Main St., Monmouth, Maine. For information on this or the upcoming 2014 season contact the Box Office at 207-933-9999 or www.theateratmonmouth.org.
--Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold