I get that people like their Christmases bubble-wrapped in tradition, to keep cherished memories (real or imagined) nice and safe - so sure,
It's a Wonderful Life
is a great choice for a holiday show. I also get that it can be pretty boring watching the same story in the same form every year. So it's hard to blame Delaware Theatre Company for putting a new spin on an old favorite with
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
. But honestly, it's pretty boring watching people perform a radio show.
The trouble, of course, is that radio is meant to be heard, not watched. Unless there's a subplot happening away from the mikes - say, a romance or a rivalry - or an array of visually and aurally exciting Foley work, what's the point? (Foley artists are people who crumple paper or slam doors to make sound effects for radio, TV, film, and, occasionally, the stage.) OK, nostalgia's the point, and if that's what you're after, you'll be amply rewarded by Anne Marie Cammarato's cashmere-soft direction, a hardworking cast, and a story you already know and love told with little alteration.
Though It's a Wonderful Life was broadcast over the radio on three occasions, all featuring its film stars Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, Joe Landry decided to make his own version, published in 2006. It's a perfectly passable rendition, with Clarence the guardian angel (Ed Swidey) watching highlights and lowlights of the life of George Bailey (Michael Boudewyns), rescuing him from suicide, and showing him how miserable the town of Grover's Corners - no, wait, Bedford Falls; sorry, wrong slice of Americana pie - would be without his largesse and selflessness.
But those inclined to reminisce about the good old days, when an honest man's values were unassailable, might also prepare an explanation for curious grandchildren as to why George, when visiting a George-less town, is less upset by his brother's death and his mother's poverty than by the idea that his wife is an "old maid" librarian.
Boudewyns, Swidey, Maggie Kettering, John Morrison, and Sara Valentine take turns at the Foley table while stepping into and out of multiple roles, and maintaining an air of gee-whiz 1940s enthusiasm. Janus Stefanowicz's smart tailoring shows flair when necessary and woolens when otherwise, while Eric Schaeffer's wood-paneled, deco-accented set completes the piece's period trappings.
The production's only false note (which, oddly, also befell Foley scenes in People's Light and Theatre's Snow White) occurs when real and anachronistic advertisements for sponsor banks and the like sneak in among spots for such quaint relics as Bremel Hair Tonic and Duck's Toilet Cake. I get that, too - these days the bills don't pay themselves. But I, and probably plenty of nostalgia seekers who came to escape contemporary cynicism for a while, also resent the intrusion.
Through Dec. 20 at Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water St., Wilmington. Tickets: $35-$49. 302-594-1100 or www.delawaretheatre.org.