Park Theatre putting on ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’

  • The cast of 'It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play' work through a rehearsal in preparation for Friday's livestream performance through The Park Theatre. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The cast of 'It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play' work through a rehearsal in preparation for Friday's livestream performance through The Park Theatre. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The cast of 'It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play' work through a rehearsal in preparation for Friday's livestream performance through The Park Theatre. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The cast of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’ work through a rehearsal in preparation for Friday’s livestream performance through The Park Theatre. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

  • The cast of 'It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play' work through a rehearsal in preparation for Friday's livestream performance through The Park Theatre. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 12/16/2020 5:47:31 PM

There are just some stories that are synonymous with the holiday season. Count “It’s a Wonderful Life” among them.

The 1946 Frank Capra classic starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, tells the story of George Bailey, a businessman who contemplates suicide one Christmas Eve, questioning whether or not the people he loves would be better off with him dead. But the prayers of his loved ones are answered in the form of a gentle angel named Clarence coming to earth to help George.

The film is viewed in households around the world in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, but on Friday you can see it in a completely different way thanks to The Park Theatre in Jaffrey. “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” will be produced live on Dec. 18 at 7 p.m., featuring a cast of local theatre stalwarts via Zoom.

The story of Bailey was reimagined by playwright Joe Landry, as the beloved American holiday story comes to life as a live 1940s radio broadcast.

Lisa Bostnar, best known locally for her work at the Peterborough Players, trades in her acting hat for the director’s chair for the two-day only production. It all came about during a conversation with John Manning, who reached out to Bostnar with an interest in playing Bailey in the reimagined version. Bostnar knew immediately that Manning would be a perfect George Bailey.

“It was a play I was hoping to tackle,” Manning said. “And it couldn’t be a more appropriate time for it. If this is not for a COVID time I don’t know what is.”

When Manning approached Bostnar, he had a few people in mind for other roles, most notably Jocelyn Duford, who plays Bailey’s wife Mary Hatch and he had worked with before including a production of Jack Neary’s “First Night” at River Street Theatre.

“They’re a good team,” Bostnar said. From there she set out to fill out the cast through her rolodex of local stage performers that could help bring this idea to life.

That led to the mother-daughter duo of Kathy and Katelyn Manfre, as well as Katelyn’s fiance Michael Dix Thomas joining the show, along with Ken Sheldon, Brian Doser (special effects) and Duford.

“It’s really a brilliant bunch of people we got together,” Bostnar said. “I suggested the Manfres and Ken Sheldon. But I also wanted to give him free rein to work with who he wanted to.”

Manning said he spent a lot of time reading the play, getting familiar with his lines and researching the time period. Sheldon was quite intrigued by it all.

“It’s a fun project and an interesting project because the process is different than what you normally do when you’re putting together a play,” he said.

While some productions just aren’t created in a way that will translate to an online performance, the radio play fits the bill. It’s set up in a way where the actors are in a radio studio and the audience gets to see all the behind the scenes that goes into the production, right down to the stage manager’s directions, the station’s announcer and reading of the commercials.

“It’s really a play within a play,” Bostnar said.

For $12.50, a household can watch it live on Friday, as the cast works there way through the story of Bailey, getting to know Mary Hatch, Mr. Potter, Uncle Billy and Clarence, the angel sent down to help Bailey. For those who can’t tune into the live rendition, a special on demand taped presentation of “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” will be available all day on Christmas Eve.

Bostnar credited the production moving forward with the fact that directors and actors around the country have found a way to continue producing content using an online platform.

“I can’t say how many Zoom readings and auditions I’ve done,” she said. “This is just how we’re doing things.”

She said this performance will give people a feeling of what it was like back in the 1940s, as “people would sit around their radios at night and listen,” Bostnar said.

The actors will be set up at their home, using a Zoom filter to make their screens appear in black and white for some semblance of the time period, along with prop retro microphones. There will be some wardrobe changes “just to give a flow of the different characters,” Bostnar said.

Sheldon said 90 percent of his duties center around Clarence, the angel, but also plays a number of other smaller characters. In one scene, he has four straight lines from four different characters. He said the challenge is making the characters his own because “you don’t want to just channel the movie.”

“You sort of have to be quick on your feet,” Sheldon said.

With the first rehearsal taking place this past Saturday and only two subsequent get-togethers before Friday, Bostnar told everyone to be familiar with the script.

“This will be my first online acting part,” Sheldon said. “Acting is one of the things I only do occasionally, but I get to hang out with some incredibly talented people.”

Manning said the online production will give a different feel, and present its own set of challenges.

“It’s definitely different because you feed off the audience’s energy,” he said. But at the same time, he knows that feeling of being with other actors will be there.

“We’ll still be able to see each other, look each other in the eye and make that connection – really talk to each other,” Manning said.

For Sheldon, one thing will be familiar as it is with any live show.

“You’re running on the edge because you never know what’s going to happen with live theatre,” he said.

For more and to purchase tickets, visit https://theparktheatre.org/.


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