Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Throw

Seeing a uniquely talented actor like Scott Wichmann perform the near-entirety of “It’s a Wonderful Life” would be a theatrical value in itself. But as my critical colleagues have pointed out in their reviews, the real “value-add” with “This Wonderful Life” at the Barksdale is that the structure of the show includes commentary on the movie, thereby allowing not only re-enactment but celebration and just a little bit of sarcasm at the expense of the holiday classic. Some of the biggest laughs in the show come from these meta-moments, such as Scott’s non-explanation of “run on the bank” and I particularly enjoyed the wry asides about bottles marked “Poison” and bank inspectors visiting on Christmas Eve.

Not only does Scottie totally inhabit a great array of characters – what an awesome Jimmy Stewart! – but his significant technical skill enhances other aspects of the show, like his switching into “fast forward” – a particular favorite of my daughter. Mr. Wichmann never fails to impress, no matter what character he is portraying, but the specific physicality he brings to his one-man shows always strikes me.

One small moment in the show is when George and Mary throw rocks at the old house that would eventually become their house. The movement of “throwing like a girl” is fairly cliché and as such is easy to overdo, but Scott captures the femininity of Mary’s throw without exaggerating it. It’s similar to a clumsy versus a careful portrayal of a gay male character: almost any hack can do an extravagantly fey queen, but creating a real person who may just have a hint of swish is hard. Mary’s throw comes and goes in an instant but it’s emblematic of what an incredible job Scott does with this show.

1 comment:

Daniel J. said...

I've just seen This Wonderful Life and my take on it is completely opposite to most reviewers'. Instead of being a warm invitation to bask in the mutual enjoyment of an adored cultural touchstone, it was basically an extended parlor trick that left me cold.

In my view, for a show like this to work the character/narrator needs to create a best-friend rapport with the audience to share his love for the timeless movie and story he recreates. It's nowhere near as important to do spot-on impressions as it is to welcome us and invite us to communally share our love for It's A Wonderful Life. Even awkward but heartfelt recreations would be more emotionally resonant than the precision display of technical expertise that seems to be the entire raison d'etre for this particular production. The focus seems to be on displaying the skill with which Scott Wichmann can imitate snippets of movie characters' dialogue (which was not acting but doing impressions, no matter how precise).

There are a few funny asides along the way, but who is this commentary coming from? Since in this production the narrator completely disappears like a chameleon into his impressions, they seem to come from nowhere, and mean nothing. I think this show is meant to be someone speaking to us for 90 minutes about his love for a movie and sharing that excitement and his favorite parts with us.

Instead, I found the entire enterprise show-offy and ostentatious, and instead of Wichmann being a vehicle to present the pleasures of This Wonderful Life, this production instead uses the script as a vehicle to present Scott Wichmann, who works so hard to please and proceeds so frantically that he is thoroughly exhausting to watch.

This Wonderful Life should have felt like a group hug, but instead it felt to me more like being asked to stand back and watch a talented kid perform at a dinner party.