America’s Equivalent to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Although there have been adaptations in several media of Frank Capra’s classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, ArtsWest’s seems to be the only solo performance adaptation. One actor played the hero, George Bailey, as well as all the other parts, including the guardian angel who tries to prevent him from committing suicide when his there is a business crisis.
Written by Helen Pafumi and Jason Lott, Artswest’s production, directed by Erin Murray, opened this past weekend as its Christmas show, starring a highly competent actor Andrew Lee Creech. Oddly, the costumer Pete Rush chose blue jeans and casual post-1965 clothing for George Bailey circa 1946. N.B. Men who worked in offices never wore jeans to work until well into the 70’s.
Relying on minimal costume changes, that is to say, changing only a few accessories, Creech differentiated the characters through physicality as well as different accents and voices. Impressively, he turned in a tour de force performance for 80 minutes straight without an intermission. Neither his energy nor his concentration flagged and he was just as much on top of it at the start of the show as at the end.
Adding a different interpretation to the evil antagonist Mr. Potter, he presumably drew from his own cultural background as an African American and chose a white Southern accent straight out of the Jim Crow South to endow Potter with even more genteel malice that he is usually portrayed. It probably was not historically accurate for a small town in New York, but it was highly effective.
With only one set, the bridge where George Bailey contemplates suicide, the audience was dependent on their own imaginations to fill in the various different settings in the episodes of George Bailey’s life: saving the pharmacist’s reputation, his dreams of travel and adventure, how fate intervened to thwart those dreams, his marriage, his commitment to doing the right thing for others at great personal sacrifice and the business crisis which drives him to the brink.
As we all know a guardian angel comes to help him through his crisis and change his perspective to see the richness of his experiences and how his life has made a difference to those around him and above all, how he has championed those pursuing the American Dream in spite of the greed of the small-town malicious tyrant.
Essentially it is the same message as Dickens’ A Chritmas Carol, that an individual can make a difference against the forces of capitalism. Both A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life were published during times of monumental social and historical changes. A Christmas Carol appeared in Great Britain just as the Poor Laws were being revised. It’s a Wonderful Life appeared in December 1946 long enough after World War II, for the US to have to grapple with the problem of the communist take over of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union, our former ally, initiating the Red Scare, McCarthyism and a complete re-evaluation of the U.S.’s role in the world.
Although the FBI thought otherwise, in many ways, It’s a Wonderful Life, is a propaganda film for free-enterprise populism, that is to say, the small guy can win over the big guys and individual effort rather than collectivism will protect the little guy. Obviously the tale, in whatever adaptation, is about far more than that, but here is the FBI’s take on It’s a Wonderful Life
“With regard to the picture ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, [redacted] stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists. [In] addition, [redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters
Clearly they missed the ending. It is because of his ethnics and compassion that he has instilled loyalty in his customers, so that they gladly come to his rescue against the evil forces of greed as represented by Mr. Potter
It’s a Wonderful Life is more than its historical background. It is a life-affirming tale and ever a reminder to live one’s life every moment, to experience what is in front of you rather than fantasize about what is far away. Also, seen in light of the 2008 liquidity crisis, one realizes that George Bailey’s business ethnics seem much more financially prudent than those greedy ruthless bankers like Mr. Potter. One can imagine that professors at the Wharton School of Business would use the example of the Bailey Building and Loan as an example of how to create customer loyalty.
To be honest, one person shows are just not my cup of tea, however brilliantly they are executed. The production of this play was top notch; the acting, the set, the sound effects, as well as the directing were superb. The problem was that the script was depressing. It all seemed a bit maudlin to have George recount all his various disappointments without having the other characters provide some humor or distraction.
However, I would recommend the Sunday matinées, Artswest schedules them at 3 pm rather than 2pm, because the West Seattle Farmer’s Market closes at 3. It is like an old-fashioned European market, they block off California Ave for a few blocks, and all the stores, mostly antique stores and used bookstores stay open. It is fun to stroll around, then go see the show.
It’s A Wonderful Life-Solo Performance, Artswest Playhouse, 4711 California Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98116, West Seattle, ( Free Street Parking), Wed thru Sun at 7:30, Sundays at 3:00 pm, thru Dec. 27, 2015, (no shows Dec 24th and 25th) Tickets:www.artswest.org/theatre/buy-tickets/ or by phone at 206.938.0339, or at the box office Thur – Sat 1:30 – 7:30 p.m. & Sun 10:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.