Theater Review: It’s a Wonderful Life at Pec Playhouse

By Edith McCauley

Theater Critic

Diane Grosvenor-Johnson, long-time member of the Pec Playhouse Company in Pecatonica, Ill., directs the current production with the expertise of one with many years of experience. The well-chosen cast performs well, and the pacing of the production is excellent. In her notes, she credits those who give technical assistance so vital to a good show. She especially acknowledges the work of Stage Manager Laura Wiegert.

Community theater literally involves the whole community. Many of the actors grew up and performed for the first time in this venue. As adults, some are still here, and others have gone on to pursue careers elsewhere.

The familiar story of George Bailey—his friends, family and the difficulties involved during the Depression—has become part of our holidays for more than 50 years. The dialogue is so predictable, we equate it with ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. Having recently seen the musical version of A Wonderful Life at Fireside, Pec’s efforts fared well. Joel Ramsey as George and Sarah Rupnow as his loving wife, Mary, on stage for much of the evening, deliver their lines with dramatic effect. Grosvenor-Johnson’s direction equips the entire cast with the assurance needed to perform and move well in a space where imagination is critical to the storyline.

George Bates makes his stage debut as the Scrooge-like Henry F. Potter. He keeps us cheering for George and uncle Billy (Jim Thompson). Bates even received a few hisses and boos at the curtain call. He convinces us of his devious strategies.

With so many scenes set in Bedford Falls, creating the illusion of a small town is a challenge. Terry Bouray’s set design involves innumerable changes and the stage crew accomplishes these quickly and with little interruption to the flow of the drama. Arnie Ames’ lighting enables much of the movement to take place while lines are delivered and the play moves forward.

Jerry Vanderheyden is Clarence, George’s guardian angel. He played the role in the same play given at Pec several years ago, and is delighted to reprise the part. As Violet, Arianne Baer adds a bit of glamour to Bedford Falls. Her first effort in theater may be just the beginning; if not a profession, at least “a wonderful life.”

Playing through Dec. 6, It’s a Wonderful Life is a great way to begin the holidays. Pam Barkdoll continues to handle tickets and publicity. For further information, call her at (815) 239-1210 or toll-free at 877-PEC-PLAY.

Michael Dice announced at intermission that the current production may enable the company to pay off their mortgage. Congratulations to Pec Playhouse and its many supporters.

From the November 25-December 1, 2009 issue

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