by Terrance Mc Arthur
There’s an old saying, “I like radio better than television because the pictures are better.” Radio was theatre that happened in your brain, not your eyes. The Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre recaptures that world of audio entertainment with It’s a Wonderful Life: a live radio play, performing through December 18.
The voyage begins in the 2nd Space lobby, decorated for the holiday. Theatre staff are dressed in period outfits, including meticulously-curled hairstyles, brushed and brushed and rebrushed. The audience finds themselves in the studios of WBFR in New York City, on a snowy Christmas Eve in the 1940s. Radio actors talk to the crowd about the weather and how much fun the evening will be. Suddenly, airtime arrives, and the genial group of nine onstage becomes an ensemble of 50, slipping from role to role with practiced ease.
The Joe Landrey adaptation generally follows the 1946 Frank Capra film, but director Denise Graziani was smart enough not to try for vocal imitations of Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore. Close your eyes and imagine your own pictures of the characters, or leave them open and watch the fun.
Aaron Gomes handles the George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) role, a young man with dreams of doing great things who wishes he’d never been born. His less-frantic approach lets you appreciate the building frustration as George pushes aside his plans for the needs of others…and for love.
Jennifer Goettsch amazed me as an overbearing antinanny in Mary Poppins in Clovis. Here, she is maternal and gentle as George’s mother, brassily sexy as the sort-of-bad girl Violet, and an all-around useful set of voices. Max Debbas can be sly, sinister, and devious as the money-grubbing Mr. Potter, who owns most of the town, but can’t seem to take over the little building & loan that George tries to keep afloat, yet he waxes heavenly as Joseph, who sends an angel to help George.
That angel, Clarence, is performed by Sterling Chase Stubblefield, recently seen in I Hate Hamlet. He also doubles as the station announcer, with a wry attitude and good looks. Imagine Max Casella from Doogie Howser, M. D., and you have a close approximation of Junior Company member Jonathan Aguirre, who serves as George’s younger brother, and local cabbie Ernie with a generous taste of Brooklyn.
Sarah Mugridge is childlike as Zuzu, George’s youngest child, small-town friendly in other parts, and she does a great crying baby imitation. Bryan Beckstrand is high-principled as George’s father and bumbling/charming as George’s Uncle Billy.
Tying all the characters into a whole is a challenge met by Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s period costumes and the live sound effects created by Kyle W. Jensen and some cast members. You can hear the crunch of footsteps in snow, but what you see is something else entirely.
We know the story of It’s a Wonderful Life, and most of us have seen it over and over again, but presenting it as a live radio show, complete with singing commercials, adds a new layer to it. Bundle up against the imaginary cold of the theatre, and hustle down to the 2nd Space, 928 E. Olive Avenue in Fresno for a cup of audio cheer that will make your holiday spirits soar. More info can be found, and tickets can be purchased, on their website.
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