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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Heartwarming Production of
It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

Also see Richard's review of Pal Joey

It's a Wonderful Life
Sarah Overman and Gabriel Marin, with Carrie Paff and Patrick Kelly Jones
Marin Theatre is presenting a family friendly production of It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Watching this excellent production brought back memories of the 1950s "radio plays" in the Los Angeles area that used contract players from major movie studios to present radio adaptation of movies. Director Jon Tracy has faithfully produced an exact replica of this type of play.

Almost 20 years ago, Frances Kondziela, a longtime friend and teacher, asked playwright Joe Landry to pen an adaptation of the iconic film for her high school ensemble. After the high school premiere, TheatreWorks of New Milford, Connecticut, staged a full production at Westport County Playhouse. Since then, many regional companies have presented this version of the holiday classic to appreciative audiences and their families.

The story is as familiar and comfortable as a pair of old pajamas. The heartwarming entertainment features five very gifted Bay area actors who put a new twist on the Capra classic, placing the behind-the-scenes happenings at center stage. Scenic designer Eric Sinkkonen, lighting designer Michael Palumbo, and composer and sound designer Chris Houston have done a fantastic job of creating this fictional world of Studio A at station WMTC, Manhattan, on Christmas Eve of 1946. There are even two live commercials in this 90-minute adaptation. The fourth wall is virtually disregarded and a certain intimacy between the actors and the audience is inevitably forged.

The cast performs with scripts in hand in front of old fashioned silver microphones with a large Christmas tree in the background of the studio. They are dressed in late '40s garb by costume designer Callie Floor. Signs overhead on each side of the stage say "Applause" and light up at the appropriate times. There are mountains of props as live sound effects are handled by these five actors.

Patrick Kelly Jones is amazing doing seventeen characters in mere seconds. He has the voice of Henry Travers, who played Clarence the angel in the film, down to a "T". Gabriel Marin gives an engaging performance as George Bailey, playing the role more dramatically than James Stewart in the film. Michael Gene Sullivan gives a splendid performance as Uncle Billy and then suddenly slips into the role of Mr. Potter. Carrie Paff is appealing in various roles including George's friend Lara Sherwood, while Sarah Overman sparkles as George's wife Mary.

It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play plays through December 16th at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave. Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org. Coming up next is Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot opening on January 24th and running through January 27th.


Photo: Ed Smith


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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