MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And during this most wonderful time of the year, if you happen to turn off your radio and turn on your TV, chances are, at some point, you'll find at least one channel playing this.
JAMES STEWART AS GEORGE BAILEY
Mary, I know what I'm going to do tomorrow and the next day, and the next year and the year after that. I'm shaking the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I'm going to see the world.
KAROLYN GRIMES AS ZUZU BAILEY
Look Daddy, teacher says every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.
That's right. That's right. That a boy, Clarence.
Its Frank Capra's 1946 film, "It's A Wonderful Life," an initial box office flop that's become a holiday staple around the world. the movie, of course, stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man who sacrifices just about everything for his family and community, only to have his whole life fall apart on Christmas Eve. When George considers suicide, his guardian angel, Clarence, steps in and shows George how life would had he never been born. For us here in the D.C. region, our television sets aren't the only place we can watch the story of George Bailey unfold right about now. The Hub Theatre in Fairfax, Va. is bringing George's tale to life on the stage, in a world premiere, one-man show titled "Wonderful Life."
Jason Lott plays about a dozen characters throughout the play, which he co-wrote with Hub's artistic director, Helen Pafumi, who says her company is dedicated to producing work that celebrates what she calls, our better human nature. I recently met up with Jason and Helen at the National Gallery of Arts Sculpture Garden Ice Rink, a rather festive place this holiday season, where Helen kicked things off by making a pretty big confession.
MS. HELEN PAFUMI
I'm not a fan of Christmas. I'd say I'm not a Grinch, but I think it can be a really stressful time of year and I think it's a lot about the materialistic side of things. And as a mom it bothers me, as a consumer it bothers me and so it's always rough for me to program at that time. I want to do something that's about the season, but to find work that doesn't make me gag is really, to put it gently, is very difficult for me. And so when I thought about what stories of the holidays that I would be excited about telling, I thought about Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life" and it's enduring nature.
MS. HELEN PAFUMI
And when I really relooked at the story, I realized, first of all, it's not a story that's about Christmas until the very end. But there's a million play versions of this movie. But I just didn't like any of them and I had this idea, I'm like, I would love to do a one-man show of this. Would that be possible? And as soon as I thought about doing a one-man show, I immediately was like, and Jason Lott should do it.
So when she approached you, your reaction was?
MR. JASON LOTT
Well, of course, immediately flattered and immediately interested as well. One of the things about it, though, is as soon as Helen asked me about it and she said she'd be writing it, I ask if it'd be possible if I could help out with the writing. I haven't done a whole lot of writing, but because I was going to be so intimately involved with the story and the performance of the story, I wanted to sort of be in on the ground floor as well. And Helen was kind of enough to allow me to co-adapt with her.
What are your feelings toward the movie?
It's interesting because I had actually never seen the complete movie before...
Seriously. Never seen the complete movie before Helen asked me to do it and so I immediately went out and got a copy and watched it and immediately fell in love with it. It's such a beautiful and amazing story of one man figuring out how connected he is to the rest of the world, to his family and friends and what happens when he's not there and what a detrimental effect that can have. I think that's one of the great things about the story, is it's telling people hey, pay attention to, you know, to your family, friends and your community and be there. Be present in their lives.
That kind of reminds me of what Helen was saying about the overall mission of Hub, sort of about people's better natures. Do you see that connection there?
Absolutely. I mean, I know that many people, they'll write their mission in a way broad way so that they can say, yes everything fits under that umbrella or they'll make some really tangential, you know, have to make six leaps to justify the play being in their repertoire, but it's actually the first question I ask myself, when I look at producing a play. "Wonderful Life" is the perfect example of being a community. You feel it in the script.
Can we talk about this script, in the adaptation process? Have you even started, like, dissecting this movie and turning it into a one person thing?
I think we really started off just trying to condense the actual screenplay, which we realized...
It was kind of an impossible task. I mean, it's such a, I mean, like the movie itself runs 2:15:00, something like that and to do a one-man show that is essentially the movie over and over again, you know what I mean, to have that run for two hours and 15 minutes is kind of a really tough task.
It's also interesting when you get down to the play that we've written. We really had to kill off a lot of the characters in Bedford Falls. We did, we had to be like, no, you're no longer intrical (sic) to this story. We had to -- it just -- there was no room for them in it.
We tried. We tried very hard to get as many of them in as we could. I mean, you know, Annie, who's one of the great characters, you know what I mean, but she's not going to make an appearance in our play.
No, sorry, Annie.
What about Burt and Ernie, the cop and the cabbie?
Burt and Ernie are both in.
I know, I mean, it wouldn't be Bedford Falls without Burt and Ernie. I mean, they play such a huge role in the town itself and their buddies of George. So they are still in.
Have you done a one-man show before?
I have. It can be a haul, certainly, because, you know, you're talking for at least an hour, sometimes over and it's just you and this one is also a direct addressee so you're talking right at the audience members. So if they get tired of you, you can see it pretty quickly. You can tell when they're falling asleep in the front row.
Never going to happen. Never going to happen.
Hopefully not, hopefully not. But, I mean, it's really an interesting relationship that you establish with the people that you're talking to and you're involving them in the story and to see their involvement is really a fulfilling thing. When they're with you and then they're surprised by what your character says and does. I mean, it's really a rewarding type of things.
Of course, in this one everyone pretty much knows the story. So in terms of the surprises, do you think there could still be surprises for the audience?
I think there will be some. I mean, first of all, I'm assuming there's probably maybe two percent of the population, who like me, had never seen the movie. So they might be coming to this and not know anything about the story and we're hoping that when those people see this, they won't feel like they've missed out because they don't know the movie but they've still gotten the story of George Bailey. But I think the people will be a little bit surprised. Sure, they may know the plot lines but we're not doing impersonations, you know what I mean, so you're not going to hear anybody talking like Jimmy Stewart for two hours and 15 minutes, see.
So I think there might be some surprises in the way that maybe perhaps some of the characters are portrayed and perhaps even some of the iconic lines will sound a little different, you know, because it's coming from a different version of the character and I guess I would say, for those people who haven't seen the movie, come and check it out because I think you'll enjoy the story of "Wonderful Life," but I think if you're a fan of the movie, you're going to be a fan of the play as well. Because when you get down to the bare bones of the story, it is the same and it's all about us learning about what a wonderful life we have.
That was Jason Lott and Helen Pafumi, talking about "Wonderful Life," Hub Theatre's new one-man show running through December 27th. For ticket information and to see photos from the production, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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