12/19/2020   THIS WONDERFUL LIFE                   Aurora Theatre “Our Stage Onscreen”    


(Sloth Alert:  Perhaps too much of this is self-plagiarized from my 2018 review of the first time Aurora staged this piece.  My reaction to the on-line virtual version is nearly identical, so, well, why not?)


It seems counter-intuitive! Take a favorite holiday story with a multitude of characters (including children), an event sure to sell out every night, and have it performed by – one guy?  It’s not as if the story is about how people are inextricably interconnected, and how “no man is alone if he has friends.”


And yet, it works, works well, and provides 75 minutes or so of rapturous joy.  It certainly helps that Jeremy Aggers is an incredibly gifted actor who throws himself into every role, as if he were jumping into a summer lake instead of an icy river.  Or maybe our current social-isolation paradigms make it seem like a natural fit.   For now.


So, this year, it has been transferred to video with so much skill and grace that the Aurora technical team (*) should be on the speed-dial of any company wishing to record a show for on-demand viewing, if not posterity itself.


Welcome back to Bedford Falls!  It’s that old familiar holiday staple, It’s a Wonderful Life, retold (by adapter Steve Murray) as a monologue for a “Storyteller with a Gift for Character.”  Once again, this show rang my metaphorical bells (giving some metaphorical angel a fine set of wings).


So, the incomparable Jeremy Aggers comes out and zips through the whole story in less than a minute, taking a premature bow.  Oh, we want to see it slower?  Okay, here we go ….


This Wonderful Life was taped in Aurora’s small Black Box space, on the original set backed by an askew “Aerial View Postcard” of Bedford Falls.   Four model buildings can occasionally be glimpsed, models that close-ups use to set particular scenes. A desk and a suitcase are the only set pieces, imaginatively “playing” chairs and cars and that crucial bridge and even an occasional suitcase and desk. 


Mr. Aggers spins a tale that would capture our attention even if we hadn’t seen it a million times before.  Purposefully mimicking the stars of the movie (his James Stewart is dead-on rock solid) he allows some contemporary commentary to spice up his tale (Freddie DOES look like Alfalfa).   As in the “live” staging, the Lighting Designer (Mike Morin) expertly sets mood and place with precisely timed cues and evocative colors, all of which transfer perfectly to video.   The Sound Designer (Anna Lee) artfully interacts with Mr. Aggers with voices and effects.  (To the technical crew – Thank you for the talking stars!)


As to the story itself, well, it is It’s a Wonderful Life, and I suspect no one is left who doesn’t know it.  After playing Potter {mumble mumble} years ago, I tend to look at it through Potter-tinted glasses, and usually see the characters’ more unattractive aspects (George does take his frustrations out on his wife and kids), as well as the sometimes-hard-to-swallow effect his character has on Bedford Falls (can one person really keep an entire town from descending into trailer-trash rabble-hood, a bunch who find beating up the local drunk a source of fun?). But, that little bit of personal pretence was more difficult to sustain throughout this production, especially given the many nasty little Potter-targeted epithets Mr. Murray adds to his script.   OTOH, a one-actor Potter-centric play may be an intriguing idea.  But I digress!


Justin Anderson directs, and this is not his first time in Bedford Falls.  He also helmed Stage Door’s marvelous 2012 “Radio Version” of the story, and here he keeps the pacing lively, the technical aspects elegantly synchronized, and, most pleasingly, Mr. Aggers putting his best (talented) foot forward.  I really liked this production, which, for an oft-told tale, goes down smoothly and gracefully and as softly as a falling petal.


This Wonderful Life is a fresh and new approach to a holiday classic, and the video nicely captures the joy of the live staging  It is getting harder to imagine a world in which this story was never written.  I wonder what that world would be like?  Best not to even think about it.

   -- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com    @bk_rudy    #AuroraTheatre   #ThisWonderfulLife   #OurStageOnScreen)


*  Technical Director Jon Sandmeier, ATD Ashley Hogan, Editors Ashley Hogan and Daniel Pope.  

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