At SBCC’s Jurkowitz Theatre, Sun., Nov. 12. Shows through Nov. 18.
Santa Barbara City College begins the holiday season with the Theatre Arts Department’s production of It’s a Wonderful Life, A Live Radio Play, directed by Katie Laris. A merry manifestation of Christmas Americana, the play takes place in a 1946 RKO studio, where a company of actors prep for their Christmas Eve radio broadcast of an adaptation of Frank Capra’s film. The story follows discouraged businessman George Bailey’s (Gabriel Uribe-Eccles) struggle to keep the Building and Loan, the only community institution offering a banking alternative to Mr. Potter’s (Nicholis Sheley) monopoly, financially viable. When a large deposit goes missing, threatening to close the business and land George in prison, George contemplates suicide, prompting an intervention from his guardian-angel-in-training, Clarence (Ryan Ostendorf), who shows him what life would be like had he never been born.
The story is compelling while maintaining the film’s festive sentimentality, and the stylish, vintage context of the piece tempers the melodrama of Capra’s film with the lively frolic of actors enjoying a festive gig, complete with sponsored commercials for various types of soap. The delightfully bossy stage manager (Aurora Gooch) runs through her business with the actors, who share their own casual, sociable mini-vignettes; and the structure of the show gives these student performers a chance to play with voice acting and creating sound effects onstage in the tradition of radio’s foley artists. While the production isn’t perfect — there’s some inconsistency in the meta-levels of the show (e.g., why was the stage manager part of the commercial kick line?) — the actors give appealing performances, and It’s a Wonderful Life, A Live Radio Play successfully embodies the celebratory nature of the holidays.