It’s A Wonderful Life By Philip Grecian

Dates and Venue November 19–December 26, 2015 Mon –Thurs at 7:30 pm, Fri & Sat at 8 pm, Wed at 1:30pm, & Sat at 2 pm | Granville Island Stage, 1585 Johnston Street

Director Dean Paul Gibson Set Design Ted Roberts Costume Design Rebekka Sorensen Lighting Design Marsha Sibthorpe Sound Design Neil Weisensel Stage Manager April Starr Land

Reviewer Maria Figueiredo

It's a Wonderful Life is a Christmas fantasy drama that is adapted for the stage by playwright Philip Grecian. The main elements of the classic movie produced by Frank Capra are kept. Black and white film scenes including one with the original film star Jimmy Stewart accentuate the 40's with its sudden collapse of the banking system and the ensuing depression.

Like the movie, the play tells about the life of George Bailey, (played brilliantly by Bob Frazer), who grows up in Bedford Falls and dreams all his young life of constructing amazing buildings and exploring the wide world. The business--the Bailey Brothers' Building and Loan helps the poor to get cheap housing much to the ire of Mr. Potter who is a ruthless, rich and greedy landowner. George's father dies suddenly and he is forced to take over as manager so as not to allow Henry Potter (Alec Willows acts superbly as the wheel-chair bound, villain) to take over the town. As a result, George has to forgo his own dreams but he encourages his brother, Harry to follow his. George falls in love with Mary (the lovely, Jennifer Lines who performs her role artistically as the faithful, happy wife) and they marry. They have four children. George and his wife live a challenging and difficult life but always help others.

George starts Bailey Park, an affordable housing project. Potter, losing tenants, tries to hire him away, offering him a huge salary and the promise of business trips to Europe, appealing to his dreams of travel. George angrily rejects the offer.

Meanwhile, Harry joins the navy in WW11 and is awarded a Medal of Honour. Uncle Billy, his father's brother goes to deposit the $8000 from their office to the bank. In his excitement about Harry's award, he loses the money inadvertently giving it to Potter.

George is bankrupt and life is bleak. He turns to begging Potter for help. He shows him his Life Insurance but the vengeful Grinch tells him he'd “be worth more dead than alive.” George in utter despair prepares to jump off a bridge with the raging waters below.

Fortunately, Clarence Odbody, Angel 2nd Class, has yet to win his wings by performing the task of rescuing George from committing suicide. Before George jumps, Clarence jumps in the river and pretends to be drowning. George rescues him. Bernard Cuffling as Clarence, George's guardian angel is engaging and cherubic despite being 200 years old!

When George wishes he had never been born, Clarence shows him what life is without him. Bedford Falls becomes Pottersville and is filled with cocktail bars and casinos. Harry, his brother is dead because George has not saved him from drowning, the old druggist goes to prison for manslaughter (because George is not there to catch his mistake), and his father's business fails due to Uncle Billy's incompetence. Mary his wife is a spinster-librarian. His beloved town looks stark and barren of joy. Nobody recognizes him not even his mother. Soon George hates living as a non-entity.

George yearns for his past life where he was loved and appreciated. He begs Clarence to give it back to him. The angel who now has gained his wings allows George to return home and be greeted by all his loved ones. Harry, his brother has come down. His wife and Uncle Billy manage to get the neighbours to contribute lots of money. The children and the family are united in love and joy. Meanwhile, Clarence the angel tackles Potter and works at getting the $8000 back.

The children performers are awesome especially little Sylvie Odette Thomas, who articulates her words clearly and acts innocently as only a child can. “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings,” says George's young daughter. The repetitive piano playing for practice and the sick child in bed make for authentic scenes of family life.

The Granville Island production utilizes quick scene changes like with the oak desk rolling on and off the stage and the stunning raising and lowering of the bridge set, giving a vivid and effective dimension to the dangers of George's suicidal thoughts. The gorgeous period costumes bring to life this austere yet elegant era.

It's a Wonderful Life is a warm, family-oriented play. The moral being that good can overcome evil. Faith, hope, love and friends are the cornerstones of family-life and of Christmas. If you want to enjoy the magic of the season go see the play with your children.

© 2015 Maria Figueiredo