Are you looking to add a little color to the annual viewing of the black-and-white classic “It’s a Wonderful Life”?
The Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project at Anderson University offers an up-close rendition of the 1946 film by staging a radio play based in the same year. Nine actors wearing period costumes stand behind microphones and read the script as if it’s going out on the airwaves. During the 90-minute performance, they’re accompanied by sound effects created on stage.
The wording is exact. The tone and inflections of the voices are critical. [Photo on left: Actor Aaron Jones delivers his lines into a microphone in "It's A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play," as Morgan Ozenbaugh, middle, and Kelsey Leigh Miller wait to accompany him with sound effects. The play runs this weekend at Anderson University's Byrum Hall.]
As a plot reminder, George Bailey runs a savings and loan in Bedford Falls during the Depression. The miserly Henry Potter, who is a shareholder, wants to take it over. George’s Uncle Billy loses a payment. On Christmas Eve, George wishes that he never existed. Enter his guardian angel, Clarence, who shows in a dream sequence what life would have been like without George. Clarence, of course, is seeking to earn his angel wings by saving George.
This AU offering makes for a pleasant seasonal diversion, particularly as you close your eyes and envision the scenes you’ve watched for years. But don’t keep them shut for too long. Each performer brings to the work a physical presence that needs to be seen.
Tristan Rodden, in his first AU play, is perfect as George Bailey. He hit every line in Tuesday’s rehearsal with the everyman appeal of a Jimmy Stewart. Rodden’s delivery of his lines even makes his “gee whiz” asides seem natural.
Adam Tran, now an AU stage veteran, literally jumps into some of his roles. His voices range from a calming Brit accent for guardian angel Clarence to a streetwise-slinging cop, Bert. Tran earns his angel wings.
Kait Burch is — as was Donna Reed in the movie — limited to lines from a devoted wife. She’s allowed to express confusion when confronted by George in the dream sequence. Aaron Jones may have too many roles to take on but he adds the proper gruffness to portray Potter.
Kelly Gualdoni adds zest in her roles, from the saucy Violet to Mary’s cranky mother.
Standing at the side of the stage, Abigail White interprets the play for the hearing impaired and expresses the mood of the lines with fitting facial expressions. Director Matthew Socey joins in for two radio commercial breaks.
As on-stage sound effects engineers, Morgan Ozenbaugh and Kelsey Leigh Miller provide chuckles by shutting doors, stomping shoes and dropping a tray to accompany the plot.
In one sense, this version could be only a group of students reading the lines from a classic film. But this well-chosen troupe reminds us of the power that radio once had. More importantly, this rendition shows the influence that a performer’s voice can have in interpreting the written word for an audience.
- What: “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” by Joe Laundry, directed by Matthew Socey and presented by Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project
- Where: Byrum Hall, Anderson
- When: 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday
- Tickets: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and military and $5 for students
—Scott L. Miley is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Photo credit: Scott L. Miley. Story republished with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.