Great Escape Charms With Holiday Classic

By Bridgette M. Redman

Celebrate the holidays at Great Escape Stage Company with the classic "It's a Wonderful Life." Photo: Debbie Culver

When it comes to heartwarming and uplifting, few stories can compete with "It's a Wonderful Life." It's one of the reasons it has been adapted into so many different forms – the classic film, a one-man show, several different stage versions and radio plays.
At the Great Escape Stage Company this month, they're ringing in the holidays with "It's a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play" adapted by Philip Grecian. Done as an eight-person show, the stage is set up with old-fashioned mics on one side and a whole table of special effects on the other. The radio station, WMBC, is decorated for the holidays, and all the players have scripts in hand to present this classic tale.
Director Debbie Culver runs a tight ship, making this show a delight to watch. There are no dead spaces, and she masters the art of when people should speak over each other, when to allow space and creating crowd noises. She balances the small stage, so that while there is little movement, it never seems inert.
She has a good ensemble of actors to work with, all of whom cooperatively give to each other, moving seamlessly between different parts and providing appropriate support. They're good listeners, too, staying attentive with everyone on stage for the entire time.
Within the ensemble, there are stand-outs. Tim Culver plays a wide variety of roles, from the goofy Uncle Billy to the evil Mr. Potter to Clarence the angel to the announcer of advertisements for local Marshall businesses. He has a strong command of all the different voices, and transitions quickly between each one. And even though it is a radio play, he gives each character a different physicality and facial expressions, always aware that there is an audience watching and not just listening.
Randy Lake is the good-hearted George Bailey, and he is endearing in that famous role. He starts out playing the 12-year-old George who is full of excitement and joy, and moves through all stages of his life, including the nadir of his existence as he lashes out at those he loves and prepares to take his own life under the belief that he is worth more dead than alive. Lake creates a George Bailey that is his own and not a copy of the George that others have created. He has his own strengths, flaws and mannerisms.
Cameron Lake and Lauri Rowe work the sound effects table, providing a constant soundtrack done with glasses, chimes, crepe paper, sandpaper and a plethora of other objects. Yet, though they are constantly moving, they never distract from the action on the other half of the stage. It is always in perfect support, and occasionally they chime in with voices to create some of the many characters that make up Bedford Falls.
Janice Darling is fun in the role of Tilly, constantly saying it is time for her to start searching for a new job, but always loyal to the Bailey Building & Loan company.
The ensemble truly is tight, and there are no stumbles in anyone's performances. They are a strong crew, and easily work with each other and are generous in their performances.
It's always fun to see what Great Escape will do with its stage, as the format can change wildly with each show. This production used the elevated audience seating first created in "The Crucible" and painted and adorned with red during "The Vagina Monologues." The audience sits to either side, with chairs for 34 audience members, making the experience an intimate one.
Smack in the middle of Downtown Marshall, Great Escape Stage Company is offering the perfect holiday fare to top off a day of shopping or dinner out with the family. The play is uplifting and succeeds in generating that warm holiday spirit.

'It's a Wonderful Life'
Great Escape Stage Company
155 W. Michigan Ave., Marshall
8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11
8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12
8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13
3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14
2 hours, 5 minutes