It may not rate as high on the holiday-cheese scale as a certain Charles Dickens classic, but It’s A Wonderful Life is no stranger to schmaltz. Sure, the 1946 film’s initial box office failure has been attributed to the fact that audiences found much of the story depressing and uncomfortable, but by modern standards, the story can seem a bit obvious. There’s the familiar “bickering man and woman realize they love each other” moment. The bartender’s name is Martini. An angel gets his wings. All I’m saying is that the story of George Bailey didn’t become a Christmas tradition by being ahead of its time in the ham-fisted stereotype and sentimentality department.
Bag&Baggage’s reworking of Frank Capra’s beloved film, with the modified title It’s a (Somewhat) Wonderful Life, doesn’t exactly break new ground either, but it’s plenty entertaining. Director Scott Palmer’s adaptation recasts the story as a disastrously bungled radio play—a form in which James Stewart reprised his role on multiple occasions—performed by jaded and disgruntled actors. This play-within-a-play conceit won’t lend any Murder of Gonzago-esque startling insights, but to Palmer’s credit, his characters are certainly dealing with similar issues to those in the story they’re enacting: they’ve cashed out on their dreams and feel stuck living a life they didn’t want (though they’re all far too self-involved to wish they’d never been born).
If the pay-off from watching these characters wrestle with their problems by enacting them isn’t as fulfilling as one might hope, it’s no fault of Bag&Baggage’s actors. Accolades are due especially to Ian Armstrong for his consistently hilarious James Stewart impression; I must have laughed the first twenty times his character, the pretentious Carlson Calaway, took on the persona of George.
It’s a (Somewhat) Wonderful Life
Thru Dec. 22 These aren’t subtle performances from any of the cast, but a farce like this isn’t the place for subtlety. The actors’ energy and charisma keep the play moving when the script’s easy comedy starts to feel a little sluggish.
My guess is that if the familiar sound of James Stewart’s flustered “Now just a minute” is enough to give you spasms of holiday disgust, you probably won’t be seeing this play anyway. But for those of us who don’t mind occasionally revisiting Bedford Falls during the holidays, It’s a (Somewhat) Wonderful Life might be a better bet than simply rewatching the original. Palmer and Bag&Baggage don’t rework the film as much as they repackage it, but it’s no worse a way to spend an evening than watching James Stewart try to lasso the moon for the twentieth time.