Review of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
By Joe Landry
Directed by Sylvia Jones
For tickets / schedule :
Raven Theater, Windsor

RUN: December 4-20, 2015
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(December 11, 2015)

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Photo by Ray Mabry

Premiering in 1996 at Stamford Center for the Arts, the play is set in 1946 at a radio studio. What I found innovative was the lack of fourth wall in the production. The sound check was part of the play, and intermission saw the cast interacting as if on a break at the studio, pulling out 1940s magazines to peruse while they waited. For those of my generation, the world of radio drama moved to podcasting, and audio is mixed in post-production with effects added later, pulled from vast internet archives of sound. That was not the case with early radio drama, which relied on instant mixing, such as walking over corn flakes to simulate the sound of snow footsteps. Watching a meticulously attired young lady vigorously pumping a toilet plunger to sound like an icy river is an eye opener for those of us who grew up looking at tracks in Audacity when creating audio drama productions.

This play is riveting from the sheer amount of interaction between characters, since there are two plays happening simultaneously—It’s a Wonderful Life on one hand, and the radio studio on the other. The result is a light hearted version of the tale, with plenty of laughs, while preserving the passionate joy and sorrow of the original story.

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Photo by Ray Mabry

The core message of It’s a Wonderful Life is relevant today; each person has meaning, and without them a gaping hole is left in the world. In the San Francisco Bay area, where the average middle class household cannot afford to buy a house of any size, the Savings and Loan crisis is especially meaningful, and its survival bitter sweet. The play is not heavy-hearted, despite the subject matter. Those of us who listen to old radio plays on a regular basis will find the faux advertisements complete with ridiculous jingles quite hilarious in their delicious accuracy. If you have not had the pleasure of hearing any old fashioned radio drama, I recommend looking up Escape, Bold Venture and X Minus One to get started.

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Photo by Ray Mabry

The cast has quite the challenge, since they are actors portraying actors portraying a wide range of characters. Gregory Skopp as Freddie Filmore astounds with his lightning fast switches between voices and a radio show host whose pompous attitude defies measurement. Matt Farrell stumbles on stage as Harry Heywood, the rather inebriated actor attempting to portray Clarence. He passes out partway through, ignored by his fellow radio actors, who continue their knitting as if nothing had happened. Angela Squire as Lana Sherwood takes her golden age Hollywood starlet act quite seriously, slinking and posing her way through the story.

With this production there are two plays for the price of one, as it were. The radio studio aspect is a fantastic comedy, and their It’s a Wonderful Life is moving and heartfelt. When looking for the perfect holiday play this December, stop by the Raven Theater in Windsor. It’s a Wonderful Life: A Life Radio Play is captivating and fun, infused with genuine holiday spirit.