It's a Wonderful Life – Canstage

by Alex Rayment

Being of the cynical and artistic variety, I was expecting It’s a Wonderful Life by Canstage to be essentially a live action version of a classic film – boring, bland and pointless. I was predicting a night of sitting in a theatre surrounded by retirees and grandparents wondering why I hadn’t just stayed home and watched the movie. What I was not expecting was the sarcastic voice in the back of my head to be told (quite promptly) to “sit down and shut up”.

First things first – this isn’t exactly a play of It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s actually a play of a group of actors in the late 1940’s doing a radio adaptation of the classic film. The single, static set is the interior of a radio station. The actors are performing – not to the audience – but into microphones at the front of the stage, their actions quite often reflecting their “actor” character while their dialogue is from one of the many residents of Bedford Falls. A play within a play is always an entertaining dynamic , but doubly so when the only lines the actors get are those of the characters in the radio production and they have to create interactions and a persona with body language alone. Major points to the cast and direction on that one.

Philip Grecian, the playwright, knew that when adapting such a well known piece to the stage that to simply redo what’s already been done so well would just be stagnant and redundant. Kind of like trying to recreate the phenomenon of original Star Wars in the the late nineties using the same old tricks…[cough, cough]. Yes, well, Grecian quite wisely decided against that and instead decided to follow the road those old movies took. Back in the day when It’s a Wonderful Life first came out, it was not uncommon for actors of a successful film to reprise the role in a radio rendition soon after the original release. This clever little trick takes the powerful imagery of the traditional Christmas tale and makes it work as an ally to the play rather than an obstacle.

The production has a fair amount of humour mixed into it, a lot of it coming from the ironic poignancy of the morals surrounding money with our current economic FAIL going on. The live music and sound effects are interesting to see done before your eyes. What struck me the most though was how much fun the cast seemed to have with the play and each other. Maybe I’m just falling into the illusion they’re trying to create and they secretly all hate each other and if so, well acted, but it really helps my enjoyment along when the actors look like they’re having as much fun as the audience.

The bottomless line: Chances are you’re one of two people. You’re either already planning on seeing this play, or (like me) the thought hadn’t even crossed your mind. In that case, I highly recommend reconsidering it. Tell your inner cynic to shut up and go…just as long as you don’t mind sitting amongst retirees and grandparents.

– It’s a Wonderful Life plays at Bluma (27 Front St.) until Dec 20
– The show runs Monday-Friday at 8pm with matinees at 1:30pm on Wednesday and 2pm on Saturday
– Tickets range from $20-$90 and can be bought online, by phone (416-368-3110) or in person

Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann