Close your eyes, just for a moment, and listen: George Bailey and Clarence the Wing-free Angel are walking over the crunching snow.
Using just your ears, it’s amazing how much your brain fills in the details of the scene in the idyllic small town of Bedford Falls: the crisp chill in the air on a cold Christmas Eve; the charming storefronts and houses brushed with a cheerful dusting of snow; the jangle of holiday parties and carolers in the difference.
Then you open your eyes and see what makes that crunching sound: a handful of corn flakes on a tray being crushed with the palm of Kyle W. Jensen’s hand.
Good Company Players hits all the right marks in its sweet and nostalgic holiday production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” which runs through Dec. 18. Joe Landry’s nicely conceived show manages to deliver a double dose of nostalgia: It offers a recap of the classic holiday movie; and it harks back to the era of radio dramas, when actors’ voices and ingenious sound effects were all that were needed to make a story come to life.
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This GCP production has a handsome, solid period feel, from David Pierce’s wood-paneled radio-station set and Joielle Adams’ smooth lighting design to Ginger Kay Lewis Reed’s peppy period costumes (the snappy dresses and tidy plaid and argyle sweaters add to the prim and proper ambiance). Director Denise Graziani’s talented ensemble cast offers polished, cordial performances. And Jensen – who as sound designer has an onstage role in the show as he creates a variety of sound effects – is a highlight. Sometimes I got so wrapped up in how he was conjuring the sounds we were hearing that I forgot to follow the story.
But most of us are already familiar with that story, seeing how “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the kind of movie that folks watch again and again. Bailey, of course, is the decent and hard-working hero who has done the right thing for his family and town as he got older, never getting a chance to go to college or explore the world. But when events turn sour one Christmas Eve, he thinks the world might have been better off if he’d never been born.
And thus we’re treated to Clarence, yet to earn his wings, who steps in with some divine guidance.
In this radio version, we in the “studio audience” get a short introduction to the characters in the radio drama as they’re about to go “live” on the air. But we don’t learn anything about them otherwise. The focus of the play is purely the adaptation of the movie.
The cast, most of whom play multiple radio roles, is uniformly good. I like the cheeky earnestness of Aaron Gomes’ George, the snappy sweetness of Brooke Rowland’s Mary Hatch (George’s love interest), and the folksy bumbling of Bryan Beckstrand’s Uncle Billy. Sterling Chase Stubblefield, as the announcer and Clarence, has a voice as smooth as melted butter, and he brings a sort of junior-executive polish to the angel role.
And then there are the cast members who surprise with their versatility: Max Debbas, Jennifer Goettsch, Sarah Mugridge and Jonathan Aguirre, all of whom play way out of their age ranges. It’s a lot of fun.
Overall, it’s a pleasantly solid holiday show that still manages to play quite well in November, which should be a relief for those who prefer to get through Thanksgiving before succumbing to the Christmas onslaught. If you’re looking for Yuletide cheer, it’s well worth a listen.
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
- Through Dec. 18
- 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave.
- www.gcplayers.com, 559-266-0660
- $20, $17 students and seniors