Dec. 2 2009 12:00 AM

Actor delivers in one-man version of classic Christmas film


For those who eagerly anticipate the annual screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and even those who think they have seen the film way too many times, know that Williamston Theatre’s current stage adaptation of the movie is something quite different. For fans and critics alike, “This Wonderful Life” is a delightful retelling of Frank Capra’s classic film with a light glaze of nostalgia and postmodern irony presented by the truly talented John Lepard.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” tells the story of George Bailey, a man with hopes beyond his one-horse town. When circumstances prevent him from living the life he thought he wanted, Bailey makes the best of what he has, until he is pushed to his limit. When he reaches the end of his rope, his guardian angel shows him a world where he never existed and the difference one person can make in the lives of everyone around him.

While a literal recreation of the film presented by one man would be an impossible task, the script of “This Wonderful Life,” conceived by Mark Setlock and written by Steve Murray, uses one actor as a storyteller, providing visually descriptive narrative as the glue between strands of dialogue from the film. The result is a three-dimen sional re-imaginnig with its own rhythm that never over-extends the actor.

Lepard is a storyteller in fine form, and the script feels as if it were written for him. Certainly Tony Caselli’s direction helps keep him from leaving any holes or from rambling too long, but Lepard’s delivery is so natural it’s easy to forget he actually memorized a script and isn’t just speaking from the heart.

Lepard brings his natural charm, wit, charisma and general likeability to every aspect of the production. To call him a gifted mimic is to completely disregard his attention to detail. In every scene, Lepard appears to absorb the character, hitting every twist of vocal inflection, puffing out his cheeks, smacking his lips, wiping his brow, contorting his body or shifting everso-slightly from line to line, as each character takes form. No matter how briefly they appear, each one is clearly recognizable; Lepard finds the humanity and humor in each of them.

Lepard is aided only by a small staircase and handrail by set designer Bartley H. Bauer, key atmospheric lighting by Reid G. Johnson and sound design by Quintessa Gallinat, which mostly consists of his own pre-recorded voice, as the faceless characters from heaven.

After Lepard lays his head on the railing of the bridge, gathering his breath for the home stretch, he begins to stand up straight and bring home the goods. With a gleeful sprint, he runs across the stage, taking on at least another 10 personas, as the town’s people who come to Bailey’s rescue. As Bailey counts his blessings, the audience sits and smiles and cries, all responses to an incredibly well told story.

‘This Wonderful Life’

Steve Murray Through Dec. 20 8 p.m. Thursday & Friday 3 p.m. &
8 p.m. Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday $16-$24 Williamston Theatre, 122 S.

Putnam St., Williamston (517) 655-SHOW