KPBS AIRDATE: December 08, 2006
Ahhh… the classics. When heroes were admirable men with values and principles…. played by admirable actors like Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart. No trace of irony, sarcasm or cynicism. Just good stories and raw emotion. Well, those days are back, on San Diego stages. Ion Theatre is presenting a searing version of “The Grapes of Wrath” and Cygnet Theatre has lovingly re-created “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a Live Radio Play.
No holiday season is complete without at least one viewing of the unforgettable Frank Capra film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In 1946, the same year the movie was released, the tear-jerking drama was performed live for the Lux Radio Theatre. An adaptation of that production, Lux soap ads and all, was created ten years ago by playwright Joe Landry.
At Cygnet Theatre, an outstanding singing-acting ensemble of eight plays myriad roles, bringing new meaning and fantastic new sound to the heartwarming story of good will and good cheer in the face of adversity. Tom Andrew is terrific as George Bailey, the small-town guy who, thanks to his guardian angel, learns about self-worth and the really important things in life. Best of show, though, is watching the marvelously talented Scott Paulson, create all the sound effects – and play several instruments, to boot. You can close your eyes and hear just how perfectly a squeaky ice cream scoop mimics the chirping of crickets, or you can watch the talent unfold in drama and song. It’s a wonderful night.
On the not-so-happy-ending side, there’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” the novel by Nobel Prize-winner John Steinbeck that concerns poverty, dashed hopes and Dust Bowl migration. Written in 1939 and set during the Great Depression, it’s an epic story of Oklahoma sharecroppers driven from their home by drought and destitution, setting out for California in search of land, jobs and dignity. Brilliantly adapted by Steppenwolf Theatre’s Frank Galati, the story is both timeless and timely, using one iconic family to underscore the need for cooperative, as opposed to independent, solutions to social problems. These days, the lesson applies on the microcosmic as well as the macrocosmic level.
Ion Theatre’s founder, artistic director and scenic designer Claudio Raygoza has mounted an epic production, with a capable cast of 25 playing multiple roles. Standing powerfully at the center are Andrew Kennedy as the ethical, principled Tom Joad, Dana Hooley as his rock-solid mother and Matt Scott as a disillusioned preacher. It’s a heartfelt, gut-wrenching production, with all the dust and disaffection we read about every day in reference to immigrants, migrant workers, labor practices, cultural bias and human rights.
Don’t forget to put both these inspiring shows on your holiday To-Do list.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.