Have a Wonderful Life (A Phamaly Production)
A Preview by Mare Trevathan
Every time a bell rings, what happens?
Yes, of course you know.
Now 67 years since “It’s a Wonderful Life” premiered, reliving the metamorphosis of George Bailey (and the getting of his guardian angel’s wings) is an American holiday tradition.
Even if an annual screening of Frank Capra’s 1946 film isn’t part of your December rituals, you’re likely familiar with the basics of the story: It’s Christmas Eve, and unlucky George Bailey finds himself in desperate circumstances. As George contemplates ending it all, Clarence- the aforementioned guardian angel- shows him what would be if he’d never existed. George, of course, has an epiphanous recognition of his impact on the world and returns to his life with vim.
In the care of the nationally-recognized Phamaly Theater Company, Artistic Director Steve Wilson hopes the stage version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” will be “an even deeper, more vibrant experience.”
“This is not only the fictional story of George Bailey,” says Bryce Alexander, who is co-director of the play with Wilson, “but also the real life struggles and sacrifices of all of the people on stage.”
Now in its 24th season, Phamaly is comprised entirely of performers with a wide variety of physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities.
Says Wilson, “This is a cast for whom, on certain days, getting out of bed, washing themselves, getting into some sort of vehicle and into rehearsal isn’t wonderful.”
“I don’t think people realize how much harder it is for us,” says cast member Trenton Schindele. “We have people with brain injuries asked to memorize and people with social disabilities asked to get up in front of hundreds of people. We have people in constant pain; singers that can’t hear the notes and dancers with wheels instead of legs. But we work through the pain and always bring the most fantastic show that we can so that we can change lives and change perspectives.”
While the physical disabilities of the cast create a different frame through which to view the play, Phamaly’s production isn’t about living with a disability.
“Like George, our cast members are not heroes simply because they live their lives with adversity,” says Alexander. “George’s journey, echoed by the true lives presented on stage, demonstrates the unquestionable meaning of a wonderful life: It is the impact each individual has on others – struggles and all – that makes it all worth it.”Wilson notes, “I think frequently people who don’t know Phamaly, are drawn to the novelty of the company- anticipating a spectacle of amateur disabled actors that we can admire for their strong effort. What we hear all the time, though, are people leaving the theater saying, ‘Wow, that was a great play.’ Our greatest compliment is being admired primarily for our artistry.”<
“An evening at Phamaly Theatre Company is not a feel-good event,” says Alexander. “It isn’t a political statement, and it isn’t a cause. It’s theatre with deeper consideration designed to make you re-envision the world around you.
“It’s damn good theatre.”
The cast includes Jeremy Palmer (George Bailey), Lyndsay Palmer (Mary [Hatch] Bailey), Trenton Schindele (Clarence), Michael Leopard (Mr. Potter), Jaime Lewis (Uncle Billy) along with Eddie Blackshere, Lily Blessing, Noal Blessing, Tammy Davidson, Everett Ediger, Harper Ediger, Cassie Ferro, Donna Gunnison, Twanna Latrice Hill, Ashley Kelashian, Kim Jackson, Amber Marsh, Edric Richerson, Eric Richerson, Lucy Roucis, Daniel Traylor, Shannon Wilson, David Wright and Lisa Young.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” previews on Thursday, December 5 and Friday, December 6 at 7:30 p.m.; opens Saturday, December 7 and runs through December 22 at the Aurora Fox Arts Center, 9900 E. Colfax Ave, Aurora, CO 80010. Performances are Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., and Monday, December 16 at 7:30 p.m.