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Cygnet’s “Wonderful Life”

Posted: December 27th, 2009 | Arts & Entertainment, Theater Reviews |

Cygnet mounts fourth “Wonderful Life,” first in new home

By Charlene Baldridge

cygnet For the fourth year, Cygnet Theatre Company mounts what’s becoming a Cygnet holiday tradition, Joe Landry’s adaptation of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.” The play is presented for the first time upon Cygnet’s Old Town Stage.

Landry’s stage work is adapted from the 1946 Frank Capra film, which starred Jimmy Stewart. The film was in turn loosely based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story, “The Greatest Gift.” The questions posed by all three incarnations are what personal gifts compose a wonderful life, what is that life’s true meaning, and what sacrifices may be required?

It’s Christmas Eve 1947 in the broadcast studio of WCYG in Manhattan. The radio players prepare to recreate the film for listeners. The film takes place in the tiny town of Bedford Falls, where the protagonist, George Bailey (played for the fourth successive year by Tom Andrew), believes he is a failure. He’s fought the good fight and sacrificed all his personal dreams and hopes to save the family business and bring it through the Great Depression. Uncle Billy loses the bank deposit needed to keep the business afloat, and nasty Mr. Potter, who’s been hoping to ruin George, is waiting to triumph at last.

George realizes that due to his insurance policy he’s worth more dead than alive. Stressed after speaking harshly to his wife and children, George, ashamed, takes off, bent upon suicide. His goodness and his impending suicide attract attention in heaven, and the powers that be send an angel second-class named Clarence (Tim West) to intervene. If successful, Clarence will win his wings after a 200-year wait.

In addition to Andrew and West, additional actors from Cygnet’s beloved company repeat their roles as follows: Amy Dalton is music director and accompanist; Jonathan Dunn-Rankin portrays the dastardly Mr. Potter; Melissa Fernandes, the troubled Violet Bick; David McBean, George’s brother Harry; Veronica Murphy, as George’s Mother; and Scott Paulson, indispensable Foley operator. All play additional roles including children, townspeople, police, bartenders and taxicab drivers.

Amanda Sitton, surely one of San Diego’s finest actors, makes a “Wonderful” debut as Mary, George’s wife. A graduate of UCSD with a BA in Theatre, Sitton is remembered most recently as the wife in Cygnet’s “Man From Nebraska.” She received the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Award for her performance in New Village Arts Theatre’s production of “Golden Boy.”

If “It’s a Wonderful Life” becomes a holiday tradition, and there’s no doubt that it will, there will be other such changes and additions down the road (for instance, Fernandes is a blond this year), minute modifications to costumes and continuing directorial nuances from Sean Murray, Cygnet artistic director.

The big change this year is the venue itself, which works marvelously well to enhance enjoyment of the two-hour production. The overriding fact, however, is the indestructibility of the work itself. Despite its familiarity and the familiarity of the performers, the sentiment and meaning once again overtake the viewer and engender holiday spirit and good will, at least for another year.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” continues at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; and 7 p.m. Sundays at Cygnet’s Old Town Stage, 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town, San Diego, $17-$46 (one free child’s ticket with every adult purchase; discounts for seniors, students and military), www.cygnettheatre.com or (619) 337-1525.

Charlene Baldridge is a member of the San Diego Critics Circle with more than 30 years experience writing about the arts.

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