Story: George Bailey always wanted to go somewhere exotic and do something special with his life. Instead, his father’s stroke and subsequent death force him to take over Bailey Building & Loan in peaceful Bedford Falls. Eventually he marries Mary Hatch, has four children and protects the townsfolk from the greedy reach of Mr. Potter, an avaricious landlord always on the prowl to make more money.
Despite saving his younger brother Harry from drowning as a child, preventing his first boss, Mr. Gower the pharmacist, from accidentally poisoning a customer and helping others in myriad ways, George contemplates suicide on Christmas Eve as his troubles overwhelm him. To the rescue arrives Clarence, a second-class angel in need of his wings. He shows the unbelieving George what life would have been like for those around him if he “had never been born.”
Highlights: Frank Capra’s 1946 film classic has been a staple of holiday TV for decades. Capra’s beloved exaggerated characters are prime fodder for the zany folks who comprise the Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre, who currently are showcasing at least their second production of the story.
All the ingredients of a wacky Monkey night at the theater are present, including the “less is more” set that features some inspired scenic artwork by Jason Alan, a cheesy sound design by Jeff Roberts that triggers old Italian songs whenever Mr. Martini is on stage and some wonderful props provided by Blaine Adams, including a Lambchop puppet engineered by Suki Peters to portray youngest Bailey child Zuzu. Director Donna Northcott, who adapted the original screenplay to fit the inimitable parodying style of the Monkey, ensures that her energetic and faithful cast throw themselves into their roles with frantic fervor.
Other Info: Ed Cole does a credible job with his Jimmy Stewart impersonation, enough to recall the original while not trying to duplicate exactly. Cole has an assured presence as George on stage and effectively anchors the barely controlled chaos.
Amy Kelly is sufficiently supportive as Mary while Paul Devine has a grand time as the nefarious Mr. Potter, even rising ‘miraculously’ from his wheelchair at one point. The cast also includes Peters as the prematurely wise Zuzu, Mike Dowdy as Bert the cop and Blaine Adams as Ernie the cabbie and Mr. Martini, Carl Overly as Nick the surly bartender, Jayson Cryer as Mr. Gower, Walt Marts as Mr. Bailey, Beth Wickenhauser as a slightly disturbing Ma Bailey, Sara Rae Womack as the alluring Violet and Cole Rommel as Harry. Eustace Allen does heavy double duty as daffy Uncle Billy and featherweight angel Clarence.
All of them are adorned in 1940s-era clothing designed by Katie Donovan, and lighting designer Natalie Smith fine tunes selected scenes such as George’s introduction to his ‘new’ home, the derelict structure spiffed up by Mary, Bert and Ernie.
Despite the exuberance of the cast, though, this 75-minute, one-act effort drags more than the earlier production and other memorable Monkey presentations, as the comedy too often veers from satiric to banal and dumb. Still, an evening with the simians always includes more than its share of guffaws.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5
Venue: Emerson Black Box Theatre, Scheidegger Center for the Performing Arts, Lindenwood University, 2300 West Clay
Dates: December 9, 10 at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Tickets: $10-$15; contact 1-800-838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com
Photo courtesy of Amanda Handle