Courtesy photoExcellent ensemble: From left

‘Wonderful Life’ hits airwaves

The talent assembled at Marin Theatre Company for “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” dazzles.

It’s that talent, both onstage and behind the scenes — not the text or concept — that’s memorable here. Joe Landry adapted the 1947 Frank Capra film into a 1940s-style live radio show, but for no good reason one can discern. The drama was first produced in 1996.

MTC’s five-member ensemble, most of whom play multiple roles, is terrific, from Michael Gene Sullivan’s villainous Mr. Potter and assorted quirky townspeople to Carrie Paff’s seductress, whispery toddler, crotchety old lady and many more.

Director Jon Tracy keeps the action buoyant, moving his actors briskly around the playing area as they inhabit the myriad characters — by way of a variety of accents, speech patterns and physicalities — at the same time they’re activating the golden-age-of-radio-era sound effects.

Tracy knows how to showcase the cast’s many skills, which include improvisation and singing.

Designer Eric Sinkkonen provides a detailed, attractively cluttered stage set complete with bulky microphones, various low-tech sound implements (designed by Seren Helday) and a Manhattan skyline visible through an upstage window, graced by the occasional light snowfall.

And Callie Floor’s costumes — including Sullivan’s gray fedora and vest, and the elegant Paff’s slinky, shimmery gown — are perfect, as are composer Chris Houston’s sound design and Michael Palumbo’s lights.

 You know the story, and it’s all here, partly narrated but mostly acted out: George Bailey (a textured, impassioned performance by Gabriel Marin) of tiny Bedford Falls, N.Y., wants to go to college and see the world, but due to family circumstances ends up running his father’s faltering building and loan company and marrying a local girl (a sweet, bravely smiling Sarah Overman).

The town is almost entirely owned by the diabolical Potter. Home foreclosures threaten, so the scenario is disturbingly relevant.

Bad things happen to the Bailey business, triggering George’s Christmas Eve suicidal impulse — until an angel (played with comic charm by Patrick Kelly Jones) gives him a new perspective on his life.

But the radio-show gimmick, amusing at first, wears thin, especially in the lengthy first act, and so does the familiar, sentimental story of small-town struggle.

The shorter second act, with its touching finale, works better, at least for curmudgeons like me.

REVIEW

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

Presented by Marin Theatre Company

Where: 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays; 7:30  p.m. Wednesdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 16

Tickets: $36 to $57

Contact: (415) 388-5208, www.marintheatre.org

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