Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's a Wonderful Life with Michael Gene Sullivan at MTC on Wanda's Picks Dec. 19, 2012

It’s a Wonderful Life, A Radio Play has been extended to Dec. 23, 2012 at the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley.  I don’t think I have ever seen the parking lot as full as it was the Saturday evening I attended. It felt like a real show with the host chatting with the audience before air time, applause signs lighting up when it was time for us to clap, and a variety of voices and sounds produced right in front of us. I could imagine how the footsteps sounded to those at home who couldn’t see one of the radio cast walking two empty shoes by hand over corn flakes (smile).

It’s a Wonderful Life is a statement most of us never question until our lives unravel and one considers alternatives like suicide or death. A friend said the premise reminded her of In Time (2011), writer-director Andrew Niccol’s film where people are given a finite amount of time for their lives based on status and class. The poorer members of this society try to steal time from those with time in abundance.  Sometimes one can have too much time on one’s hands literally—think about it. A person who has seen 100 good years might not want to spend another 250 years on the planet.  Then there are others who are trapped in a literal time zone, because they don’t have enough time to leave or travel. All currency is time. So in It’s a Wonderful Life when time is reversed and the protagonist realizes that certain events would not have taken place had he not been born, he is so happy when he gets his life back. Sometimes it’s not possible to take two. The first run is the only take.

The set was so interesting—microphones, equipment or props for the radio show—the commercials between dramatic segments were fun, especially the one about shampoo. The fine cast (5) shifted well between characters, playing multiple characters at once. There were photos of famous artists on the walls of the studio. Unlike the film starring Jimmy Stewart, Joe Landry’s Live Radio Play adaptation of Frank Capra’s film by the same title, seemed to develop the supporting characters more, whether that was the state employee whom the villain bribed or protagonist George Bailey’s youngest child who got a flower at school, his Uncle Billy who lost the company payroll to villain Old Man Potter, George’s dad, Mary, his wife. . . . who goes away to college and then returns home to George and his fun, yet meddling mom.

But perhaps the reason why the holiday tale felt so new has a lot to do with the story’s form which points to the immediacy of the genre, theatre—a radio play at that. Before the show starts, Michael Gene Sullivan’s "Freddie Fillmore" is talking to the audience, prepping it on a song, answering questions and kidding around.  Then the house lights dim and the lights blink on the set “Applause,” signaling time to settle down for the show. Unlike those listening at home, we have the privilege of watching the actors on the set which is entertaining within itself—tight, they have to quietly maneuver between and around each other as they shift hats from actor to sound designers or engineers—chorus, conductors and cheer leaders.  

It’s a Wonderful Life tells us to count our blessings every day, especially on those days when we’re overdrawn on life and we’ve lost the keys to the safety deposit box where memories are kept.  Michael Gene Sullivan is perfect as "Freddie," the host of the show. A natural, Sullivan’s work with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a 25+ year old history of political theatre in the park, is at home with Radio Play, a show that shares much of the same Mime Troupe theatrics.

It is not a musical, yet there is music on the show—Michael’s timing is superb, whether that is as Uncle Billy stumbling out of the office drunk and knocking something over or as the villain, Trotter, rubbing his hands together when he thinks he has finally gotten the best of George. 

Don't miss closing week, Dec. 20-23, with two shows on the weekends. Tickets are also discounted. Visit or (415) 388-5208. The theatre is located at 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley, CA 94941.

Michael Gene Sullivan closes the Wanda's Picks radio show this morning. Visit



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