Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
Okay, over here you got your world class yuletide curmudgeons: Ebeneezer Scrooge and the Grinch. They never heard a Christmas carol they didn't flat out hate. And chipper children? Don't even go there.
Now over here you've got your wonderful...wait! Why is George Bailey draped over that bridge railing?
While Scrooge and the Grinch explode on Christmas Eve. George is about to implode. He wishes he'd never been born.
Every time he was about to break away from boring old Bedford Falls, something came up: he abandoned a trip to Europe; gave away all his college money; stuck around to keep his father's savings & loan alive. And now he contemplates the ultimate break-away.
In many ways, George is the exact opposite of Scrooge. George has been the town's guardian angel, and it'll take a real guardian angel — albeit one yet to earn his wings — to save him.
This year's rendition of Wonderful Life is Cygnet Theatre's last. The production began in 2006, at Moxie's Rolando space, and has grown and grown.
It's Christmas Eve, 1946. Radio station WCYG presents a live broadcast of It's a Wonderful Life (which is tricky, historically, since the Frank Capra movie opened in New York on December 20, 1946). Nine actors recreate the story. As they do multiple characterizations, they play to their stand-up microphones. In the background, ingenious Jason Connors improvises sounds, everything from playing the harp to cricket chirps from an ice cream scoop.
Craig Noel Award-winner Tom Andrew taffy-pulls the "dawg-gone-its" and "aw shux's" à la Jimmy Stewart in the movie. But inside the radio format, Andrew layers in backstage emotions (the actor playing George has some sub-textual troubles of his own). It's a wonderful effort.
The woman playing George's wife won a beauty contest and won't let her live audience forget it (ever-inventive Amanda Sitton gives a tall, slithery wave at every opportunity). Jonathan Dunn-Rankin (as the town's captitalist-bully, Mr. Potter, among others), Melissa Fernandes, Veronica Murphy, Tim West (as the fumbling guardian angel), Patrick Osteen, and David McBean on piano — all meld, under Sean Murray's direction, into a fluid ensemble.
And in the brief second act, the bells and whistles vanish as George rediscovers his purpose.