This Wonderful Life
This year's holiday show at the Rep is a minimally staged one-man piece a couple of light years removed from last year's zany and colorful Kiss Me, Kate. But the brilliant Mark Setlock single-handedly fills the stage with more than a dozen of the familiar and well-loved characters from Frank Capra's great holiday film It's a Wonderful Life and captures our hearts with a warm and witty reprise of the classic story.
It's interesting to speculate about the relative roles of Mr. Setlock, director Martha Banta (who directed the show's premier in Portland), and writer Steve Murray. Clearly they have worked very precisely and closely on this project, but the evening as it unfolds has a comfortably casual air, as if the whole thing were being improvised by Mr. Setlock as we watch. There is no attempt to create or preserve aesthetic distance; a high-speed thirty-second recap of the movie shatters any barriers between stage and seats, and sets the tone for the evening. People who know and love the movie (all of us) are going to be led through it again, for all the world like a travelogue, by a guide (Mr. Setlock) who can bring the characters and their words almost magically to life. Along the way, he'll point out, and join us in laughing at, some things about the movie that are corny or theatrical, and we won't really learn anything we didn't know before, though maybe we'll remember some things we have forgotten. And at the end of the evening, we will want to go see the movie again.
It's a simple concept, simply staged (with a clever set by James Wolk), and a simply wonderful evening of theater.
This Wonderful Life will run through December 28 on the Browning Mainstage at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis. For ticket information, call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org.