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Commonweal conveys ‘Wonderful Life’ message through radio play

November 28, 2018

LANESBORO — A man, apparently on the run from police, stumbles into an abandoned radio studio and after a few moments magically becomes part of a live radio broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life” from 75 years ago.

How does that happen? Hey, it’s the holidays — you have to believe in the magic.

Think too hard about it and the premise of the Commonweal Theatre’ s “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” begins to fall apart and you miss out on this favorite story of the holiday season.

The play, which opened over the weekend, is directed by Philip Muehe from a script by Joe Landry. The setup is as described above, with Jeremy van Meter as Jake, the guy on the run, who assumes the role of George Bailey in the radio broadcast. Again, don’t think too much about a guy coming off the street assuming a lead dramatic role in a radio broadcast.

Also in the cast are Eric Lee, Lizzy Andretta, Lauren Schulke, David Hennessey and Brandt Roberts. All play a variety of characters — too many perhaps. When actors shift from one character to another simply by the inflection of their voice, there’s the chance the audience will pay more attention to divining who is supposed to be speaking, rather than to what is being said.

Roberts handles all the radio sound effects. We would have liked to have seen him in a speaking role, given his previous demonstrated ability to completely change his look and voice with each role. Everyone in the cast, though, is forced to be economical with their acting, sketching a character in just a few lines or gestures.

For those who haven’t seen the movie version of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the plot, with its foundation in financial matters, and as told to us by a lot of different voices who have the same physical appearance, can be a bit of a puzzle. It probably worked better on the radio.

Give Muehe credit for keeping everyone in the cast moving, rather than stationary in front of a microphone. Speaking of movement, the radio commercials that break up the acts of the radio play are lively and entertaining.

At the end, the play succeeds in delivering the same timeless, heart-warming message as the popular movie. We are encouraged, in this season of giving, to be thankful for what we have been given. Even Jake, the man on the run, has been transformed at the end.

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