Wednesday, December 5, 2012

AustinLiveTheatre Review: It's A Wonderful Life, a live radio play by Joe Landry, Penfold Theatre, November 29 - December 15

AustinLiveTheatre reviewIt's A Wonderful Life Joe Landry Penfold Theatre Round Rock TX

by Michael Meigs

Frank Capra's film It's A Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart captured the yearning, optimism and nostalgia for small-town U.S.A. in 1946, a time when millions of American men were returning from the war. The film made an unpromising start and was considered something of a failure in its first release, but yearly television showings of this black-and-white tale of redemption and grace set it deeply into our collective consciousness. 

 Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed as his sweetheart, Lionel Barrymore as the wicked, grasping Old Man Potter -- in effect, reprising his role as Scrooge -- well, you've almost certainly seen the film, and if you haven't, then you should.

Stewart had debuted as a naive and gangling youngster in 1930's films but during the War he'd enlisted and eventually flown B-24 missions over Germany; and here he was, in his unassuming way, pretending to be an earnest small town savings-and-loan manager, 4-F because of a deaf ear.

Republic Pictures failed to renew the copyright on the film in the 1970's and had to struggle to re-establish control over the piece. It's not clear to me whether Joe Landry had to pay royalties when he put together this piece in 1996. If not, that clerical error cost Capra's estate and others dear, for this simple staging of the story has become an adored staple of the holiday season.

Penfold Theatre did it last year at Friar Tuck's cafe in downtown Round Rock, and this year they've secured the charming but faux Rice's Crossing Country Store at the Old Settler's Association, a perfectly appropriate setting for this time trip. The Gaslight Baker Theatre also did it for the 2011 holidays, the Bastrop Opera House performed it in 2009 and Austin Playhouse did it in their Larry L. King Theatre in 2008. San Antonio's Classic Theatre performed the show four times last month, and KSTX Texas Public Radio in San Antonio will play a recording of the Classic Theatre version at 8 p.m. this coming Christmas eve.

I brought a friend from Arizona to Penfold's November 29 opening night, and upon his return he discovered that the show was also playing in Tucson.

Joe Landry's website lists 151 productions playing this year, ten of them -- including this one -- in Texas. He must be a very happy man.


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