It’s A Wonderful Life, revisited

MAKE A WISH: Local theater companies Immediate Theatre Project and Parkway Playhouse stage versions of It's A Wonderful Life. Photo courtesy of Immediate Theatre Project

Live theater is current, ever-changing and immediate. Case in point, The Immediate Theatre Project’s performance of Live From WVL Radio: It’s A Wonderful Life. Taking the beloved holiday tale and making it relevant to current times, the performance aims to bypass excessive nostalgia and present the moving story as a reinterpretation.

To recap, the play is based on the classic film, which is based on a 1940s-era short story by Philip Van Doren Stern. It’s the tale of George Bailey, who wishes he had never been born. When an angel appears to grant that wish, George begins to see how his life has positively impacted those around him. “I did a lot of thinking about what exactly I was responding to in the Wonderful Life story and how I could craft an adaptation that drew on those things,” says producing artistic director Willie Repoley. For this adaptation, “We set up a play-within-a-play where the success of a small group of radio station employees rested upon each other’s generosity just as much as George Bailey is rescued by reciprocal generosity.”

Repoley initially developed an adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life in 2006, but it was scrapped because he “just didn’t find it all that interesting or relevant to how we live now.” In 2009, he reworked the project to be the production that he still performs today.

“I always find it amusing when people say things like ‘It’s just like the movie,’  because it isn’t,” says Repoley. Instead, it looks at the character of George Bailey and the story’s connectivity across the decades. “He has hard choices to make and [constantly] chooses others over himself,”  says Repoley. “So the question is, when does one’s generosity start to undermine itself? How much can one give without exhausting oneself? How do you strike a healthy balance between generosity and self-protection? These are not easy questions, and especially in lean economic times, many, many people are making choices like this every day. So his story starts to feel very, very timely.”

Repoley suggests that his actors avoid watching the James Stewart film, “Not because it isn’t great, but because it is perfect. We can never do onstage what Frank Capra did on screen. We can never replace those wonderful performances. We have to find our own connection to the story, so that we can give a performance that stands up to the movie, without trying to duplicate it.”

The show will only be in Asheville for one night before continuing its December tour through East Coast venues and over to Wisconsin. But if this performance doesn’t fit into your schedule, The Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville stages its production of It’s A Wonderful Life as a 1940s radio production.

WHAT: It’s A Wonderful Life
WHEN: Monday, Dec. 1, at 8 p.m., at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall. $15 in advance/$20 at the door. immediatetheatre.org
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, Dec. 12 and 13, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 14, at 3 p.m., at Burnsville Town Center. $15 adults/$10 children. parkwayplayhouse.com

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