Trish and Harold's Weblog

News, information, and random thoughts from the busy lives of Trish Egan and Harold Phillips.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ok, NOW Christmas Can Start.

I'm sure many of you are already suffering from "Holiday Fatigue." When you start hearing Christmas music in October, when the stores are putting up their Christmas decorations as early as September, it's easy to get cynical about the holiday season. The quickest cure for the over-commercialized-holiday-blahs? A visit with that American saint George Bailey. Trish and I had a visit with him just last night, but not in the way one normally checks in with Frank Capra's holiday creation... this visit was live, on stage at Portland Center Stage's production of their new show This Wonderful Life.

Before I talk about the show, I have a confession to make... I believe in George Bailey (and, for that matter, I believe in Jefferson Smith). It's easy to look at the early 20th century sentiment in Frank Capra's films and dismiss it as "hokey schmaltz" from a bygone era. To be sure, the pace of those old films can put some people off, as can the broad acting and cinematic conventions of the time. But the lessons contained in these movies, about the power of the individual to change the world around him, about the importance of the connections we make with family and friends... these are fundamental truths that we need to reminded of from time to time.

PCS's production of This Wonderful Life never loses sight of these simple bits of wisdom. While the being faithful to the screenplay, playwright Steve Murray and actor Mark Setlock add in a dash of contemporary commentary on the film... The one-man show (handled ably by Setlock - you've got to give this guy credit for playing all those characters so thoroughly!) is a dramatized "telling" of the movie, rather than an attempt to completely re-stage the film. Setlock tells us about the film, from the first moment to the last, cutting some of the bits from the film out but leaving us with all the good stuff. He plays the parts but never loses sight of the fact that this is a shared experience between himself and the audience - he doesn't "do" Jimmy Stuart. Instead, he "suggests" Jimmy Stuart and lets our own memories and recollections do the rest.

The technical elements of the show are just simple enough to evoke the settings and occurances of the movie without overpowering the single actor on stage. Corners of houses and signs hung from the flys help to indicate the setting, individual walls and doors are used for a multitude of purposes, and a single desk acts as a central playing area. Director Martha Banta has done a great job of directing Setlock's movements on stage to keep the "retelling" of the film flowing while allowing him time to take on new characters and inhabit each fully. Jen Raynack's sound design plays an especially important part in setting the scene and adding more "voices" to the piece when needed.

This show is the perfect holiday companion. I know PCS ticket prices are steep, but you'll really be doing yourselves a favor if you take the time to check it out.

For myself, I think I'm gonna have to start listening to Christmas music...