It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

Dissecting Charlotte's holiday-oriented theater

Perry Tannenbaum
Creative Loafing Charlotte

...Down the hall at Spirit Square in Duke Power Theatre, a five-person ensemble from North Carolina Stage Company was demonstrating how less really can be more in It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. No Christmas trees among the props, nor any 1940s Radio Hour contretemps among our players. Instead, the stage is outfitted like a real radio studio with all the wondrous paraphernalia necessary to stage the beloved parable for a listener's imagination.

I can't say a single misstep marred the resourceful actors' efforts, either in voicing their many characters or producing their sound effects. George Bailey's obscure life in Bedford Falls came off every bit as worthy as the wonderful efforts of the actors to tell it down to its tiniest detail. Up in the sound booth, folks potting the mic levels occasionally let a line slip past at fully amped volume, and the softest sound effects didn't quite reach me up in the fourth row.

All that really matters in this treasurable story was vividly rendered with just the right mixture of artifice and sincerity under Hans Meyer's flawless direction. The justification for doing all this in radio style seemed to be the pace of the action and the wide vista of scenery we know from the film. But at the end, the radio concept adds its own layering of meaning: the troubles, setbacks, self-doubts, and hopelessness that George feels so keenly are as insubstantial as the hokey WBFR studio compared to the wonder of living a life anywhere when ennobled by the attempt to lift up a community and raise a wholesome family.

Willie Repoley's earnestness as George was felicitously paired with Lauren Fortuna's steadfast belief in him as Mary, and Joe Sturgeon's gruffness as Potter was an apt counterweight. The only bad news here is that NC Stage's run with Wonderful Life is over at the Duke, though you can follow the troupe back home to Asheville, where they'll light the applause sign again December 18-23.

Otherwise, you can get over missing this wonder by catching the next two scheduled N.C. Stage invasions: Moonlight and Magnolias (April 30-May 4) and Chesapeake (June 25-29).