For Kate Costello, being in the Albuquerque Little Theatre production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is more than the enjoyment of participating in community theater. Indeed, it’s about the fact that Costello is portraying the character of Mary Bailey.
“It’s a joy to play a role in such a time-honored holiday tradition, meaning not only this story, but (its) celebration of love, friendship, family and, of course, life,” Costello wrote in an email.
The production opens tonight at ALT and runs through Dec. 24.
|‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
WHEN: 8 tonight and Saturday, Dec. 1 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2. Repeats Dec. 7-9, Dec. 13-16 and Dec. 21-24
WHERE: Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW
HOW MUCH: $22 general public, $20 seniors, $18 students and $10 children 12 and under in advance at www.albuquerquelittletheatre.org or at the ALT box office, by calling 242-4750 or at the doorStory by David Steinberg ⋄ Photographs by Adolphe Pierre-Louis ⋄ Of the Journal
The play is an adaptation of Frank Capra’s famous 1946 movie of the same name. The movie is ranked No. 1 in the American Film Institute’s list of the most inspirational movies.
Costello said her character of Mary Bailey is not only full of life and love but is an atypical period spouse.
“She’s not the typical window-dressing wife of the era – stuck in the kitchen, waiting on her husband hand and foot – but instead (she’s) an independent, spirited woman who recognizes in George a companion, a partner, someone to share her life with,” she wrote.
The story moves over time from 1919 to 1945 and is set in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, N.Y.
The story centers on George Bailey, who keeps the family-owned savings and loan business afloat. But he’s very much Mr. Nice Guy. He’s civic-minded without neglecting his family.
“George is a man who doesn’t realize that he has value for the good deeds he has done,” said director Art Tedesco.
George’s good deeds include saving his brother Harry from drowning in an icy pond and stopping the local pharmacist from accidentally putting poison in a prescription for a child.
“George’s dream is to travel. That’s the plot,” Tedesco said. “But the real heart is that everyone is vital.”
Still, George is emotionally upset because he hasn’t gotten to fulfill his dream and because he doesn’t see that his good deeds in his hometown have made a difference.
Scott Bryan, who portrays George, said that no one ever feels completely satisfied with his situation, including himself.
“George takes a very pessimistic view for a lot of the play, but ultimately it’s a story about optimism and seeing how great life can be if you see it in the right way,” Bryan said.
So here it is Christmas Eve in the story and George is so down on himself that he’s ready to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. In steps Clarence, his guardian angel. It’s Clarence’s job to demonstrate to George what Bedford Falls and its townspeople would have been like had George not been such a strong, kind-hearted person.
Clarence shows George that had he not saved his brother from drowning his brother would not have gone on to become a hero in World War II, that Bedford Falls would have been renamed Potterville for the avaricious banker Mr. Potter.
In the iconic movie, Jimmy Stewart played George, Donna Reed was Mary and Lionel Barrymore was Mr. Potter.
In the ALT production Thom Hinks is Mr. Potter.
“The way Art (Tedesco) and I have worked out the character is that there’s no good quality to him whatsoever. He’s after George Bailey and wants to destroy George Bailey, and he will go to all and any lengths to accomplish this goal,” Hinks said.
“In George Bailey’s case, it’s to keep Potter from destroying him.”
Mr. Potter, however, is unlike two other nasty characters in holiday movies – Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” and the Grinch in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – because Scrooge and the Grinch have some redeeming qualities, Hinks said.
He said he’s trying hard not to imitate Barrymore’s Mr. Potter.
“Because with Barrymore in the movie you can be a lot more subtle in your actions. In a stage production you have to be a bit more obvious. Barrymore could give a subtle gesture, a look in his eye. With me it’s the tone of my voice,” he said.
Costello enjoys exploring the relationship of Mary and George from their innocent beginnings to their mature family life as husband and wife and parents.
“Scott (Bryan) and I don’t have to imagine the characters’ history. We get to live it, which is a really lovely thing to do as an actor. It’s a rarity and a treat,” she said.
“And being able to share all of this with an audience, to have that sense of community, and to know that even though they know how this story will end, they’re still there, because it truly is a holiday tradition.”
Scott Bryan is troubled businessman George Bailey and Kate Costello is his wife Mary Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the holiday offering at Albuquerque Little Theatre. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Journal)
Scott Bryan, left, is George Bailey, a despairing businessman about to end his life, and Larry Welz is Clarence, the angel sent down to help him in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Journal)
Townspeople rally around George Bailey to let him know how much they appreciate him and all he’s done. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Journal)
From left, Thom Hinks is Henry Potter, the evil banker who wants to destroy George Bailey, Dr. Norman Dawson is Potter’s Goon and Scott Bryan is George Bailey. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Journal)
Mary Bailey, played by Kate Costello, is the spirited wife of George Bailey, played by Scott Bryan. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Journal)