Friday, November 26, 2010

Cleveland Play House: This Wonderful Life

(Through December 19th at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave)

Complimenting the beautiful display of Christmas Trees in the lobbies, the Cleveland Play House is presenting a fresh take on a seasonal classic with This Wonderful Life (an adaptation of Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life).

I wasn't really sure what I had purchased a ticket for (a ticket acquired on pure impulse--"One for the next show, please" during the Light Up The Night festivities earlier this week) and had some fear when I learned it was a one-man show. The theatrical Christmas show is just about as hackneyed as a department store's Black Friday sale. The one-man show is a risky venture for both theatres and audience: Inexpensive to produce, if the audience hates that one-man they hate the entire cast.

This Wonderful Life, though, is a risk that pays dividends. The one man, James Leaming inhabits his characters. Arriving a bit early I caught the tail end of a talkback he was hosting; as talkback gave way to the audience invocation gave way to the action the transition was seamless; Mr. Leaming greeted arriving audience members, gave the cellphones-and-exits speech (though he didn't mention if seat cushions could be used for floatation) and then the real entertainment began. Though not roll-on-the-floor funny there are plenty of asides, tongue-in-cheek references, restrained sight gags, and double entendres sprinkled throughout to keep things amusing.

One challenge I often have with one-man/one-woman shows is filtering through the noise of over-the-top costume changes or accents and to keep track of who is whom. There are no costume changes, though the occasional accent is sparingly used to add depth.

Though the general plot is unlikely to surprise anyone even vaguely familiar with the film, looking at it in a wholly new context brings fresh clarity and relevance to the classic, and that ultimately selflessness reaps bountiful harvests and true friends are of immeasurable value.

This holiday season value your loved ones and friends...and seek always to make new friends.


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