Presented by: Hangar Theatre Where: 801 Taughannock Blvd. Ithaca When: Dec. 9-16 Tickets: $18-26
Review by Chris Ballard
Nothing brings a family together like the impending Christmas season and soft onset of snow in Central New York.
And no one realizes this more than passionate-turned-despondent protagonist George Bailey in Hangar Theatre’s presentation of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” an entertaining adaptation of the classic 1946 film.
The play is an homage to the golden age of radio with an echoing, timeless Dickensian Christmas spirit. The broadcasters re-enacted the vintage script in which Bailey - morose and suicidal on Christmas Eve 1946 after a misplaced $8,000 deposit - receives a visit from his guardian angel Clarence Oddbody.
From heaven, Oddbody witnesses Bailey saving his brother’s life, preventing a pharmacist from accidentally poisoning a child and giving up his budding wanderlust to run the family business after his father’s death. Now, the angel must earn his wings by showing Bailey the true value of his life.
Because it was a live radio play (which lacked the physical interpretation and direct character recognition of a typical stage version), seven actors played radio broadcasters who read the play “on-air,” each one bringing several characters to life.
Freddy Filmore, the boom-voiced narrator and lead broadcaster, easily transformed into Mr. Potter, the curmudgeonly antagonist. Trashcan destroyer, wash tub operator and utility noisemaker Tim Ostrander served as a Foley artist and brought vitality to the play.
But the live radio broadcast didn’t hamper the cast’s creativity. The addition of live-performed commercials injected some comedic relief into the dramatic play (and a unique way to plug the theater’s sponsors). One included an advertisement for the aptly named George B. Bailey Insurance Agency in Dryden, in which the narrator ended with an invitation to visit the company’s website. After a drawn-out silence and questioning glances between audience and cast, one actor softly inquired, “What’s a website?” to applause from the audience.
Another featured a local eatery, College Town Bagels. The actor compared the brain sizes of those who eat bagels (a football-sized plastic brain), to those who don’t eat bagels (a brain barely the size of a golf ball).
The quirk of the live radio broadcast adds a certain comfort level to the play. It stirs images of family and friends huddled around a fire, ears tuned to the radio static, escaping a Central New York blizzard and reveling in the spirit of Christmas.
The play embodies this nostalgia well. From the verisimilitude of the stage and production to the dynamic actors effortlessly switching characters, it’s a wonderful way to spend time with family and close friends for the holidays.