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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

This Wonderful Life

Or: Nostalgia, on the rocks

How do you capture a universal memory? How do you rebirth, retool, and revive on of the greatest, and most played, christmas stories ever put before an audience? It can’t be done, yet playwright Steve Murray has come as close as can be to capturing the essence of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, and making it breath anew every night on the BCT stage.

It is Christmas Eve, 1945, and the Angles Franklin (Tom Ford) and Joseph (Tom Ford) look down at the small new england town of Bedford Falls where a man named George Bailey (Tom Ford) stands on a bridge in the snowy night feeling lonely, despised, wicked and a total failure. To prevent George from throwing away the dearest thing he owes St. Peter summons Angle Second-class Clarence Odbody (Tom Ford) and sends him to earth. Before descending Clarences is given the highlights of his target’s life: his loving but tense relationship with his father Peter (Tom Ford), his ongoing battle against the evil Mr. Potter (Tom Ford) for the life, freedom and purity of Bedford Falls, his longstanding love for sweet Mary Hatch (Tom Ford) and his relationship with everyone in town (Tom Ford).

Tom Ford (rounding out on his BCT triathlon of One Man Wonders) is, and I hate to use this phrasing, “perfectly suited” to Murray’s fast paced, wry and loving reviving. There is no other voice, that I can think of, that can spread the rich and thick jam of Capra’s dialog and then trip off one of Murray’s contemporary commentaries: about Annie the Black Maid, or Martini the excitable Italian, or those weird hollywood kisses where they “mush their cheeks together but can never seem to find the lips”. A master storyteller, Ford also knows how to eddie the script and his audience into a moments pause, to savor a scene that Capra painted in 1946 but that we’ve each carried, with minute changes and exaggerations, since ever we first fell in love with George. Plus, on a purely technical note, his Jimmy Stewart impression is a dead ringer.

Ford is assisted by a collection of long suffering stagehands and Rick Martin’s tasteful and ever surpassing set of film screens. Across this bland background clips and stills of the original movie blossom and fade to help enforce, underline or interact with Ford’s performance. A remarkably fine use of projections on the stage, but like all their ilk, can really throw the performance for a loop if it gets a hair’s breath out of line.

While most Boise’s theater going audience will be naturally pulled towards the show by the force of the the Tour de Ford, this lifting of the old classic to the light would a worthy production it its own right. It reminds us just how precious this tale is, points out where its pristine vision gets a bit shabby and reminds us that “This isn’t a story about christmas. It’s about all the days of the year, the good and the bad, and how you have to go through the bad so you can get to the next good day.”

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