Sunday, December 14, 2014

Wonderful Life (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Jason Lott performs a one-man adaptation of the Christmas film classic Its a Wonderful Life for the second year in a row.  Right up front let me predict he'll do this show he co-wrote (with Helen Pafumi) many more times in a lots more venues. The reasons seems simple enough.

To begin, Wonderful Life admirably boils down and re-tells the perennial classic into a new format without seeking to somehow reproduce a motion picture on stage. That way lies madness, or at the very least near-certain failure because the two remain such different media. Rather than even try, the authors made their play first and foremost a theatrical experience, one where a shift of lights or simple sound cue coupled with a shift of position transports us via our imagination anywhere the story demands. No elaborate soundscapes nor super-detailed sets. In fact we only see a black space and a bench. Likewise the flow of the story feels the way a story does when related by a good narrator. Not necessarily linear, at least not in terms of time and space. But emotionally, yes. Very much so. I especially like how we learn details of the story as we need to--not in terms of data retrieval but for purposes of emotion, feeling, the visceral sense of this tale.

Photo by C. Stanley Photography
Likewise Mr. Lott's performance sucked me right into the tale. That he never seemed to try and copy any of the actors in the movie is all for the good, indeed excellent, and generally the major characters come across as genuinely complex individuals. This often proves a trap, at least in my experience, in playing overtly "good" characters because it seems so easy to play them without nuance.

Mr. Lott does all this admirably. More, he sustains our interest and sympathy for seventy full minutes. Without that, the story wouldn't work. Like A Christmas Carol, this story (which is in some ways a mirror image of Dickens' classic) has been told and retold, revised and remounted time after time. But if we don't care for the characters, if we don't believe in them, we are not moved.

I was moved. Quite a lot.

Indeed the only wrong note in what was otherwise a tour-de-force was treatment of the villain of the piece, Mr. Potter. While giving him a little backstory was great (really--this seems like the only time anyone's ever bothered to do that--KUDOS) giving him all kinds of political rhetoric that sounded "on the nose" almost undid it. He ceased for awhile to be a human being (only for awhile though) and more like a straw man for terrible, terrible ideas--but put into words that rang false.

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed and praise this performance and encourage anyone who wants to dive into the Holiday Spirit to see this if they get the chance!

Wonderful Life will play Saturday, December 20 at 8pm, Sunday December 21 at 2pm and Wednesday December 24 at 2pm for a special holiday matinee at the Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way (at Santa Monica Blvd). Tickets are $10 and available at the door or at

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