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It's a Wonderful Play

In faster moving stage version, holiday film classic is well-done by Santa Paula troupe.

November 26, 1998|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Generally speaking, you're more likely to find a movie based on a play than vice-versa. But the occasional play is based on a hit film--"Gigi" and "The Wizard of Oz," for instance. And another is James W. Rodgers' adaptation of the 1946 movie "It's a Wonderful Life," a much-beloved holiday classic in some circles.

That's the one where George Bailey, about to commit suicide after a series of personal setbacks, is met by a sort of apprentice guardian angel, who shows George how much he (George, that is) has contributed to the lives of his wife and community.

Though based on a short story, it's a long film. One of the outstanding aspects of the play version, now at the Santa Paula Theatre Center, is that under Gerald Castillo's direction, it's actually shorter and faster-moving than the film.

John Reinhart stars as George, and his performance is certainly one of the show's strengths--while not aping Jimmy Stewart's version of the character in the film, Reinhart conveys the same kind of good-naturedness.

John Masterson is amusing as Clarence, hoping to win his angel's wings by setting George straight, and Jared McVay is hissably mean as George's rival, the banker Henry Potter.

Among the very large supporting cast are Leslie Nichols as a bank examiner of flexible honesty; John McKinley as Uncle Billy, whose major blunder sets George's building and loan on its way to bankruptcy; and Kelley Hatch as George's wife.

In addition to the heartwarming play (remember, the film was directed by that master of heartwarming, Frank Capra), several seasonal songs are sung by the cast, as well as several more choruses of "Buffalo Gals" than anyone should be forced to sit through.

Jeff Rack's stage set isn't as ambitious as usual, but he saves a nice Christmas surprise for near the end.

*

"It's a Wonderful Life" continues through Dec. 6 at the Santa Paula Theatre Center, 125 S. 7th St. in Santa Paula. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings, and 2:30 Sunday afternoons. Tickets for all shows are $12.50, adults; $10, seniors and students; and $6, children 12 and under. For reservations or further information, call 525-4645.

And for those who have had enough of Christmas (and it's just Thanksgiving): Thousand Oaks-based Gothic Productions is producing Tennessee Williams' "The Rose Tattoo," which has nothing whatsoever to do with the season.

Set in the deep South--Mississippi, probably--the characters are a blend of Southerners and Sicilian Americans. Subtle, it isn't.

The word "florid" comes frequently to mind, what with everybody yelling most of the time. That said, it's one of Williams' more accessible plays, and quite charming under Bianca Jansen's direction.

And frequently, it's quite amusing--making us wonder why it's one of Williams' less frequently produced works.

Maybe it's the challenge of having the cast have to deal with all those accents.

Suzanne Tobin, who's very good, stars as Serafina Della Rose, married to a truck driver and mother of teenage Rosa (Rochelle Glatt).

A personal tragedy puts Rose (played in the movie version by Anna Magnani, who won an Academy Award) into a deep despondency out of which she's eventually drawn by another Sicilian American truck driver, Alvaro (Burt Lancaster, of all people, in the movie; the Italian Sergio Bertolli here).

In addition to creating the Italian Americans at the play's core, Williams had drawn up several of his typically, shall we say, colorful Southern characters to stand on the sidelines and comment on or help move the action.

Of those, special note here to Bobbi Van Eman, whose entrance alone as the mysterious Estelle Hohengarten is dramatic enough to mark her as real trouble; how much so, we don't find out until much later on.

*

"The Rose Tattoo" continues through Dec. 6 at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Ave. in Thousand Oaks. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings, and 7 p.m. Sundays. There will be no performance this Friday. Tickets are $7.50 this Saturday and Sunday only; tickets Dec. 4-6 are $12; $10, seniors and students. For reservations or further information, call 381-2747.

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