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A New Twist On A Holiday Classic: Wonderful Life

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Jason Lott stars in – and co-wrote – Wonderful Life: the new one-man play based on Frank Capra’s classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life.
John Potter
Jason Lott stars in – and co-wrote – Wonderful Life: the new one-man play based on Frank Capra’s classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life.

If you turn on your television this time of year, chances are you'll find at least one channel playing Frank Capra's 1946 film, It's a Wonderful Life.

Our televisions aren't the only place we can watch the story of George Bailey though. The Hub Theatre in Fairfax, Va. is bringing George's tale to life on the stage in the world-premiere, one-man show, Wonderful Life. Jason Lott plays about a dozen characters throughout the play, which he co-wrote with Hub's artistic director, Helen Pafumi. Pafumi says she finds George Bailey's tale so appealing because she admits: she's not a fan of Christmas.

"I'm not a Grinch," Pafumi says, "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. It's always rough for me to program at that time. When I thought about what stories of the holidays that I'd be excited about telling, I thought about Capra's It's A Wonderful Life and realized it's not a story about Christmas until the very end."

So Pafumi decided to write a one-man show inspired by the film, and her first choice for a star was D.C.-based actor Jason Lott. The two wound up writing the show together, though Lott confesses he'd never seen the movie.

"I immediately went out and got a copy of it and watched it, and immediately fell in love with it," Lott says. "It's such a beautiful and amazing story of one man figuring out how connected he is to the rest of his world and to his friends and family, and what happens when he's not there. It's telling people, 'hey, pay attention, to your family, friends and community. Be present in their lives.'"

As for the adaptation process, Lott and Pafumi say they had to shorten the two-hour-fifteen-movie quite a bit. That meant doing away with a bunch of beloved characters from the film, including the Baileys' housekeeper, Annie. Though Bert and Ernie - the cop and cabbie -- are still in, says Lott, since "it wouldn't be Bedford Falls without Bert and Ernie!"

Although many people already know the story, Lott says he thinks audience members will be surprised by Hub's theatrical version of Capra's film.

"I think there might be some surprise in perhaps some of the ways some of the characters are portrayed," he says, "and even some of the iconic lines will sound a little different because it's coming from a different version of the character."

Lott says whether or not people have seen the film, he suspects they'll enjoy the play, "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."

Wonderful Life runs at Hub Theatre through December 27.

[Music: "Auld Lang Syne" by Pink Martini from Joy to the World]

Photos: It's A Wonderful Life

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