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St. Louis by Richard Green

The One Hour It's a Wonderful Life
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
Lindenwood University

Also see Richard's review of My Three Angels and Bob's review of Tom Sawyer

It's a Wonderful Life
Amy Kelly, Blaine Adams, Ed Cole
and Mike Dowdy

Somehow, with Christmas exploding in the stores all the way back around Halloween, it only seems right that Frank Capra's classic 1946 movie should be boiled down to a lively 75-minute on-stage romp, jam-packed with talent and ruthless, reckless comedy—and a surprising amount of genuine heart. And, with the immensely likable Ed Cole playing (Jimmy Stewart playing) George Bailey, this will be one of the brightest moments of the current Christmas season.

It's a ridiculous show, and it will sound even more so when I say that there's real, horrific poignancy in Mr. Cole's portrayal. (More on that in a minute.) Overall, though, director Donna Northcott has found a riotous parade of performers to go smashing into our hero, like billiard balls that won't stop ricocheting off the bumpers. For example, Amy Kelly is hilariously single-minded (as the future Mary Bailey) in her pursuit of the reedy young man at the Building & Loan; and Paul Devine knows just how much Lionel Barrymore to channel to bring the scheming old Mr. Potter to threatening life.

Eustace Allen is great as Clarence the aspiring angel and as Uncle Billy, who foolishly loses eight thousand dollars in cash, and dooms the family business. And, once again, Mr. Cole is shockingly great as the Jimmy Stewart character, shaking Uncle Billy in a state of raw, absolute panic as he contemplates the coming scandal and ruination. I can't remember ever seeing anything like the bipolar oscillation of a leading man, back and forth between such raw emotion and such giddy satire. It's almost like two completely different shows going on at once, in our hearts and minds: the unforgettable original, and the unforgivably silly spoof. Mr. Cole even looks a bit like Jimmy Stewart and, of course, sounds like him too.

That's what makes the satire, and the wave after wave of sketch comedy, so dizzying. You won't necessarily howl at every goofy sight-gag, or every wicked groaner, but it's not long before the stage is littered with confetti and Silly String and fake snow (not to mention the dignity of any number of respectable performers) after a steady barrage of baggy-pants nonsense. And then there's the breathtaking contrast of the darkest drama, every now and then, supplied by this George Bailey. All of that helps carry us from one genuine moment of shrieking madness to the next, with hardly ever a missed step. See it twice, or go to Hell.

And what a great pleasure to see Walt Marts on stage in Saint Louis again—the last I heard, he'd moved to Texas. So I had no idea who that intensely talented fellow was, till things calmed down and I looked in the program when I got home. Thumbs up, likewise, to Eustace Allen, Mike Dowdy, Carl Overly, Suki Peters—and every single person on stage, for bringing their "A" game to these monkeyshines.

Through December 10, 2011, with additional late shows Friday and Saturday at 10:30 pm, at the Emerson Black Box Theatre in the massive J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts on West Clay, just west of First Capitol Drive in St. Charles, Missouri. Allow a half hour drive from downtown Saint Louis. For more information visit www.brownpapertickets.com online, or call (314) 361-5664 or e-mail info@stlshakespeare.org.

Cast
George Bailey: Ed Cole
Mary Bailey: Amy Kelly
Mr. Potter: Paul Devine
Uncle Billy/Clarence: Eustace Allen
Ernie/Martini/Sam/etc.: Blaine Adams
Bert/Marty/Tommy/etc.: Mike Dowdy
Pa/Reineman/etc.: Walt Marts
Annie/Nick/etc.: Carl Overly
Tilly/Zuzu/Mrs. Partridge/etc.: Suki Peters
Harry/Pete/etc.: Cole Rommel
Ma Bailey/Mrs. Thompson/etc.: Beth Wickenhauser
Violet/Janey/etc.: Sara Rae Womack

Crew
Director: Donna Northcott
Stage Manager: Lydia Crandall
Scenic Painter: Jason Alan
Costume Designer: Katie Donovan
Sound Designer: Jeff Roberts
Lighting Designer: Natalie Smith
Properties Designer: Blaine Adams
Technical Director: Linda Lawson Mixon
Assistant Tech Director: Amy Holmes Simmons
Box Office Manager: Kathy Doerr
House Manager: Kim Sansone
Postcard Design: Charlie Gaines


Photo: Donna Northcott


-- Richard T. Green

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