It's a short, sweet "Wonderful Life"

SLO Little Theatre's version of the holiday classic boils it down to the essence

Special to The TribuneDecember 5, 2012 

"It’s a Wonderful Life” seems to have eternal life, with the movie first screening in 1945 and being shown every Christmas season since then. It has already hit television this year.

The stage version, adapted by James W. Rodgers from the Frank Capra film, boils the story down to its essence. Short and sweet, it tells the story of the now iconic George Bailey, stressed to the point of suicide and eventually saved by his guardian angel and his earthly friends. The production at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre has a fine cast and tells the tale with drama and heart, wrapping up with a tear-jerking, holiday happy ending.

Director Lisa Woske’s cast overacts just enough to crisply define each character. It’s all about George Bailey; played by Chad Stevens, he is the person who is given some depth. Stevens is excellent as he quickly builds sympathy for the beleaguered Bailey as he sees his youthful dreams vanish into a quagmire of money problems as his nemesis in the small town of Bedford Falls does everything he can to destroy him.

That nemesis is banker and slumlord Mr. Potter, played with villainous intent by Michael Siebrass. Mr. Potter is nasty and mean, and Siebrass, rolling about in an antique wheelchair, takes delight in the juicy role.

As the play opens, Bailey perches on a bridge contemplating jumping. The bridge, painted above the stage, is the only real set piece. The rest of the set by Kevin Harris and Dave Linfield is abstract. An arrangement of tiers that enables the actors to move about and go on and off stage, it enhances the feeling of distilling the story and avoids distracting set changes as the action moves to many locations when the story is told in flashbacks.

As Bailey stands on the bridge, white-suited Clarence Oddbody, Angel Second Class, appears to talk him out of what he is thinking of doing. Richard Dresp is properly angelic as the elderly guardian angel, guiding Bailey back in time to visit some of the highlights of his life.

He visits high school girls Violet, a wannabe seductress, played humorously by Sarah Willingham, and Mary Hatch, who is to become Mrs. Bailey. Maggie Coons is good as the sweet, no-nonsense Mary. Zoe Peach-Riley, Harper Peach-Riley and Layla Powell are cute later in the play as the Bailey kids.

Janice Peters is good as Bailey’s mother, and Billy Kirkpatrick and Jean Miller play his aunt and uncle, who help to move the action along. There is a large cast of secondary characters as Bailey’s friends and the townspeople and clients of his building and loan business play crucial roles in his threatened downfall and final salvation. Gary Borjan, John Hernandez, Jessica Quandt and Amara Villasenor are members of a choir that sings several times during the story.

The film version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” has endured partly because of the memorable performances by James Stewart and Donna Reed, but the story stands on its own.

The elements are all there: good guy versus bad guy, divine intervention, and a solid moral. Bailey discovers that the important things in life can’t all be measured in dollars and cents. He is also reminded that his own life has been important to others. These are messages we are all happy to hear over and over again.

IF YOU GO

"It’s a Wonderful Life"
7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 23
San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, 888 Morro St., San Luis Obispo
$15 to $25
786-2440 or www.slolittletheatre.org

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