In all likelihood you have seen the American holiday classic It’s A Wonderful Life many times as the movie is shown every year. This weekend, you can experience the beloved story as a radio play when the Honeoye Falls-Lima High School Drama Club presents It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.
Like the movie, the radio play follows the life of George Bailey which often seems anything but wonderful. This young man with worldly dreams grapples with setbacks and problems as he becomes trapped in his hometown (when he yearns to go to college and see the world) and runs his late father’s business. Things come to a head when his uncle Billy loses $8,000 and, believing it when he is told he is worth more dead than alive, George contemplates suicide until Clarence, an angel who is trying to earn his wings, is sent to intervene. Clarence shows George what his family (particularly his wife Mary and his brother Harry), friends and community would be like if he had never been born.
Ella Clark, a senior who plays George’s wife Mary Hatch, says that idea is what is most inspirational about the movie.
“I have been watching the movie since I was a little kid,” Clark said during an interview before a rehearsal last week. “It’s one of my mom’s favorite Christmas movies, so we always watch it. The part that is so incredibly moving to me is when George realizes how much he would have missed if he had never been born and he is praying to go back to his life and you see how thankful he is when he comes back. I guess it reminds you to be thankful for your life and that it isn’t as bad as you might think it is and how much your life can impact others.”
David Tuller, who plays George Bailey, says what is inspirational about the movie to him is the idea that when you have so many people care for each other and care for an idea, incredible things can happen.
“Miracles can happen and I think that if someone truly deserves that kind of love and respect and they truly deserves a miracle that they will get it,” said Tuller, a senior who played the title role in Aladdin as an eighth-grader at HF-L Middle School four year ago and Marius in Les Miserables this past spring. “I think that is an incredible idea and theme.”
The show addresses resonant issues of self-worth and failure. Channeling that intensity and that emotion would be tough for any actor. According to Jimmy Stewart’s biographer Robert Matzen in Matzen’s book Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe, the late actor who played George Bailey in the movie suffered from what would later be known as PTSD (post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; back then it was considered ‘shell-shock’ or ‘combat fatigue’) due to his experiences as a combat pilot and flight leader in Europe during World War II and Stewart channeled the rage, anxiety and other emotions from his PTSD into the role of George Bailey as the 1946 film was his first since returning from the war. Two scenes in particular are often cited as evidence of Stewart’s grappling with his war experiences: the rage in the scene where Bailey destroys part of the family living room, exploding in anger at his wife and children and the scene where a desperate Bailey prays to God: “I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope.” The tears running down Stewart’s face were real, the actor revealed in a 1987 interview. For a high school student, channeling those intense emotions is even tougher.
“I think pulling from different experiences that I have been through personally helped me connect with the character, both the good times and bad times,” Tuller said. “I think that Bailey’s idea of humbleness and love and respect for other people; that’s really a person I try to be and I think channeling the idea of his character is what is helping me a lot.”
Another challenge for the student actors is the fact that as a radio play, it’s not like other shows they have done.
“Being a radio drama, it presents a whole separate actor’s dilemma that you have to face,” said senior Colin Fanning, who plays the angel Clarence. “You don’t get the opportunity to act something out with your body; it’s all with your voice. So, it’s all about working with different voice inflection, changing your volume and your tone to represent what it would be like to act a scene out a certain way, except not physically just with your voice. So that’s been a challenge but other than that, it’s been a cool change of pace.”
The show will be performed November 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the high school auditorium. Tickets for the show are $6. The show is about an hour and a half in length with an intermission.