Story & photos by Gretchen Ammerman
For the TODAY
An oft-told tale of American history involves a 1938 radio broadcast that led to a bit of a kerfuffle when some people thought the Earth was being invaded by aliens. Though usually told with a “Tut, tut, how silly people were back then,” air, the “War of the Worlds” story still endures as an example of the importance of radio in the time before you could spend an entire day binge-watching Downton Abbey at the North Pole if you were so inclined.
This weekend, Lincoln City’s Theatre West will try to recreate that simpler time, when it presents “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.”
Among the actors taking to the stage is Theatre West veteran Wes Ryan, who has fond memories of radio’s golden age.
“When I was a kid, you knew the lineup of the shows by heart because you didn’t want to take the chance on missing your favorites,” he said.
The play, written by Joe Landry, presents a new twist on an old classic — going behind the scenes of a radio performance of the iconic movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” complete with commercial breaks where the cast sings jingles.
Director Lewis Smith has been spending the past few weeks collecting sound effects for the show to achieve the best effect.
“The sound effects are also characters, in a way,” he said. “I’ve been having a great time trying to find all the different sounds that are in the script. Some of them look really complex but might only be used once, but since you don’t have the luxury of seeing the action, the quality of the sound effects gets more important.”
The movie being reenacted in the radio show centers on George Bailey, played by Matt Blakeman, a man in crisis who considers ending it all on Christmas Eve. George is walked through the good deeds of his life by an angel named Clarence, who has troubles of his own.
“Though the play is true to the movie, there are a few tricks that are used to transform it for the radio show,” Smith said. “For example, the angels can describe things that you would have normally seen in the film, like the envelope falling on the floor.”
Smith, who recently directed and acted in the new coastal favorite Halloween adventure, A Tour to Die For, gathered a large cast and crew to pull off the play within a play, including Tracy Blakeman, Bryan Kirsch, Robin Kirsch, Alice Luchau, Tom Carlson, Steve Griffiths, Joy Gallagher, Stina Seeger-Gibson, Rich Emery, Patti Siberz, Tricia Chandler and Kate Daschel, who will be handling the electronic sound effects, including period-appropriate music.
Smith brought the idea to the Lincoln City theater company partially because he has a positive history with the play.
“I was in a production of it in San Francisco and people really loved it,” he said. “I think a lot of people don’t know what to expect from a play about a radio performance, but it really is fun to watch, and also to produce. Next year, I’m hoping to actually broadcast it too.”
Presented for one weekend only, the holiday-themed play is being presented for a holiday-worthy price.
“All tickets are only $10” Smith said. “We’re looking at this as partially a Christmas gift from the theater.”
“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” will run from Friday, Dec. 15, through Sunday, Dec. 17, at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday and 2 pm on Sunday. All tickets are first come, first served with no reserved seating. Theatre West is located at 3536 SE Hwy. 101 in Lincoln City. For more information about the theater, go to www.theatrewest.com or call 541-994-5663.