‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ evokes nostalgia but lacks dimensionality

Dec. 7, 2013

Eleanor Skelton
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Star rating: 2.5/5

For senior audiences recalling memories of the 1940s radio station world and live radio audiences, Theatreworks’ “It’s a Wonderful Life” staging embodies Norman Rockwell-style nostalgia.

But for the typical college student with a 90s childhood, World War II is far removed. A Coca-Cola commercial-style Christmas feels hollow and manufactured.

Theatreworks’ production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” recreates a version of a live radio story hour within the world of theater, blending two historically well-loved forms of media.

The audience might expect meta-textual underpinnings from this premise, or possibly academically oriented humor on the false reality media can create. However, the play delivers exactly as advertises – no surprises – and falls flat.

The actors assemble on stage, tinkering around the broadcast room and preparing to be on air in 15 minutes, the audience is told.

The audience may be confused about when the actual theater begins because there is no distinction between the stage/radio room being prepared for a theatrical performance and the beginning of the play.

The two female actors have 40s-style curled blond and brunette hair and prim dress suits with knee-length skirts. In the same way, the male actors are dressed in suits and fedoras.

Gender stereotypes from before the American feminist movement are accurately portrayed but also hyper-emphasized.

Since the story portrayed is primarily auditory, the audience is asked to imagine the “radio” storyline, but the broadcast room staging feels historically accurate, complete with the applause light and snow falling in the window.

The audience is able to see the sounds for radio theater being created, the actors exchanging places at the microphones and the interplay between the broadcasting team.

This feels like a historical reenactment, but may distract those who are accustomed to watching the black-and-white film version of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” even though the radio version preceded it.

The broadcast group’s commercial breaks during the play are voiced in old-time radio style, but the content of the commercials are either for funding for Theatreworks and memberships or for the Old Colorado Beer Festival, reminding where the play is set, breaking immersion.

The addition of red and blue lighting as well as George and Mary’s waltz after Clarence the angel shows George what Bedford Falls would be like if he had never been born draws the audience back into the main story, but it is too little, too late.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” lacks credibility since the audience is not asked to suspend their disbelief. Because no fourth wall is created between the audience and the actors, the audience does not react when the actor voicing George Bailey breaks the wall toward the end of the production.