The holiday season has officially kicked off at Ross Valley Players with It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. The Adrian Elfenbaum-directed show runs at the Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross through Dec. 14.
Joe Landry adapted the classic 1946 Frank Capra movie as a play within a play. Five actors play 1940s radio performers playing various roles in a live radio production of It’s a Wonderful Life. The core story is the same as that of the film: George Bailey is a stand-up guy with bad luck who, after a particularly bad night, contemplates ending it all, only to be saved by Clarence, a fledgling angel trying to earn his wings.
The twist is that the play is on an old-fashioned radio soundstage: WBFR in Manhattan. The production has live foley tables, live instruments and even a touch of theatrical magic. Foley is the art of creating sound effects, such as banging coconut shells together to mimic horse hooves. Before the advent of modern sound systems, it was present at every live performance. It’s always a pleasure to experience good foley; it would be worth it if this production offered nothing else.
The other technical and design aspects of this production are good. Set designer Mikiko Uesugi has made the most of the space, and the result is a nearly flawless, ultra-realistic radio soundstage. Michael A. Berg’s costumes excel in their attention to detail, and Dianne Harrison’s property design is well-crafted.
The tech and design elements are not the only good work done. The play is well cast with a tight ensemble. Their dynamic keeps the play from getting overly saccharine. And apart from a slight tendency from Evan Held (Jake Laurents playing George Bailey) to get shouty in act three, everything else is well grounded.
Loren Nordlund as radio host Freddie Filmore (and others) and Malcolm Bowman Rodgers as Harry “Jazzbo” Heywood (and others, including Clarence) both showcase wide ranges and transition smoothly from one character to another. Molly Rebekka Benson (Lana Sherwood, Violet and others) shows skills and talent that make for an almost textbook example of how to do a show calling for so many characters.
If one’s holidays require cynicism, obviously, this show isn’t for them. But for those looking for pure theatrical comfort food to share with loved ones this season, this production absolutely delivers.
‘It’s a Wonderful LIfe: A Live Radio Play’ runs through Dec. 17 at the Barn Theatre in the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Thurs. – Sat. 7:30pm; Sun., 2pm. $20–$35. 415.456.9555. rossvalleyplayers.com.