Frank Capra’s grating 1946 cinematic motivational speech has always elicited a certain amount of eye-rolling and begrudging appreciation—it is Jimmy Stewart in all his stammering glory, for god’s sake. Re-imagined as a 1940s radio play, the stage adaptation at American Theater Company sports a few annoying touches, as well—namely, a pre-show sing-a-long and awkward attempts by cast members to chat up the audience—and yet there is something about this production that sits just right. ATC has been digging this one out of the closet for a few years now; this was my first opportunity to finally see it, and as directed by Marty Higginbotham, the show has an ingratiating, kitschy quality and a winking appreciation for all its retro corniness. Broadcasting from the wood-paneled studios of the fictitious WATC, the cast stands before soap-sponge microphones and re-enacts the tale of George Bailey, played by James Leaming with a low-key Stewartness that is earnest and just the tiniest bit ridiculous. The show includes audiograms, in which the audience is invited to scribble down a message to loved ones that the cast reads over the air, “A Prairie Home Companion”—style. It’s a nice, amusing touch. (Nina Metz)
This production is now closed.