Hub Theatre Wonderful LifeBy Kari Kitts Rothstein • Dec 6th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
John Swazye Theatre, Fairfax, VA
Through December 27th
$25/$15 Seniors and Students
Reviewed December 4th, 2011
Re-inventing a classic story is not an easy thing to do. It’s a Wonderful Life is shown over and over every Christmas season. George Bailey and the town of Bedford Falls feel like a part of America’s extended family. We look forward to seeing them and sharing in their story every year. Hub Theatre’s production of Wonderful Life attempts to tell the classic story utilizing only one performer to play the parts of the whole town. While the play is not always able to stand up to the task of giving every character a full realization it is ultimately an interesting and touching piece.
Helen Pafumi and Jason Lott adapted the story of It’s a Wonderful Life into a neat and relatively short piece. Co-adaptor Jason Lott as the sole actor performed all of the characters. Wonderful Life tells the familiar story of George Bailey and his life in Bedford Falls. It chronicles the journey of his life’s sacrifices and triumphs and how they affect the man himself, as well as the town. The play is very engaging and Lott’s energy keeps the pace moving along by utilizing some very well placed moments of silence the audience finds a chance to reflect. The story, which is so familiar to audiences, wouldn’t feel right without the inclusion of certain phrases: the mentions of angels receiving wings, charming stories of the Bailey family and mention of landmarks of Bedford Falls are well represented. But the story is told in a different order that gives this work its own life. Watching Wonderful Life feels like revisiting a childhood memory through the eyes of an adult. The script does run into a few problems. Some of the women, in particular Violet and Mary, feel like types not people. Their dialogue both in the words themselves and delivery impress them as flat caricatures, not real women. So much life and detail is breathed into the male characters of the show, whether in humorous or serious scenes. It’s disappointing to lose the sweetness and humor that Mary and Violet add to the world. George’s mother Mrs. Bailey is a more positive female character especially in her later scene.
This piece finds its strongest footing when Lott delivers the male characters. George, the beloved hero, is played as strong and compassionate, tinged with a rainbow of varying emotions. His George Bailey is a calmer and more measured George than audiences may be used to, and the result is a more modern man. Lott’s portrayals of both Mr. Gower and Martini are small nuggets of wonderful acting in both vocal and physical qualities. Clarence is more childlike but still focused in his mission to help George Bailey, if sometimes a bit flat. The charming and absent-minded Uncle Billy appeared much too young in voice and body. Playing Mr. Potter, the show’s villain Lott found some of his best physicality and vocal ranges. The Mr. Potter in Wonderful Life is a more utilitarian and more personal version than audiences usually see. It’s an interesting idea that doesn’t always seem to reconcile his speeches with his actions in the play. He almost seems to be governed with a 2011 “Great Recession” mindset instead of a Great Depression/World War II era frame of mind.
The visual effects of this show were very simplistic but very effective. The small stage with its bench was used to create a variety of locations. The set also contained some wonderful signs to mark Bedford Falls Landmarks. And one surprise visual element near the end is simply breathtaking. The lighting was beautiful and suggested many moods and emotions. Lott wore a wonderfully appropriate suit that did not encumber his movement and looked just like what George Bailey would own. The sound was also very well designed and used with exception of the prayers being said for George. After listening to Lott play all the characters hearing women’s voices seemed to call attention to the fact that they were missing. The show’s lack of a strong female presence sometimes made the piece feel as though it kept you at a distance.
It’s so hard to try to retell the story of George Bailey. Wonderful Life makes a valiant and often very successful try at showing something new. But, missing out on the children’s presence entirely and limiting the women to two postures deflates the story and the world in which it exists. Whereas the traditional It’s a Wonderful Life serves as a heart-swelling nod to the value of friendship, Wonderful Life takes you on a quiet journey that reflects the prize of peace within self.
From the Artistic Director
Wonderful Life is the best kind of Christmas story. It concentrates on the most sublime parts of the season, highlighting the acts of giving that happen at this time of year. When Jason and I first started adapting this work, I thought the main theme we would find was a man’s struggle to find his self-worth. But what we’ve found is more about how the sacrifice of one man can mean the world to others. What happens when a man gives up all his hopes and dreams for the happiness of others? We tend to think of that act as altruistic. But what we see with George is while he is driven by a code of morality and goodness, giving up his own goals leaves him pining for a future he can never have. This is much more human than a fairy tale where a hero seems nonplussed by relinquishing his own needs. How many of us have done what is right while wishing we didn’t have to? The important thing is that we still do it. Perhaps the act of giving is even more poignant because we know that we are giving up a part of ourselves. And perhaps making this kind of sacrifice-one that hurts- is where the true test of our grace lies.
Photos by John Potter
- Residents of Bedford Falls: Jason Lott
- Adapted by: Helen Pafumi and Jason Lott
- Directed by: Gregg Henry
- Scenic Designer: Brooke A. Robbins
- Lighting Designer: Kyle Grant
- Costume Designer: Maria Vetsch
- Sound Designer: Thomas Sowers
- Stage Manager: Sarah Conte
- Founding Artistic Director: Helen Pafumi
- Technical Director: Jameson Shroyer
- Running Crew: John Oakes and Jude Rodriguez
- Co-Founders: Marey Oakes, Maggie Ulmer
- Company Administrator: Scarlet Rose
- Board of Directors: Mary Oakes, President. Gay Beach, Randy Carswell, Helen Pafumi, Dina Punturi, Jeffrey Stevenson, Rick Vetsch
- Company Memmbers: Matt Bassett, Kristen Egermeier, James Flanagan, Danny Gavigan, Robbie Hayes, Kristen LePine, Shirley Serotsky, Maria Vetsch, Maggie Ulmer
- Advisory Board: Randy Baker, Michael Dove, Rick Davis, Ed Eaton, Scott Fortier, Jenny McConnell-Frederick, Claudia A. Gentile, Jeremy Skidmore, David Snider
Disclaimer: Hub Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7442.
Kari Kitts Rothstein is an actor, singer, director and writer. She is a relative newcomer to the DC theatrical community. Kari has been performing since she was a little girl in church and began seriously pursuing acting in high school. She is a graduate of Emory & Henry College with a degree in Theater. The favorite part of her theatrical training was her apprenticeship at Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia. While at Barter Theatre she was privileged to act on the Main Stage (Eleanor: An American Love Story) and with the Player Company (Frog Prince and Just So Stories Two). Kari is currently concentrating on returning to acting and assisting with drama at her church.