ALBANY, N.Y. -- The Christmas season certainly does have its traditions in ceremony, music and taletelling, few, I suspect, that are as universal and as much beloved as Frank Capra's 1946 film, "It's a Wonderful Life," the endearing tale of small-town banker George Bailey, an angel-in-waiting and a profound test of faith.
The film has been adapted into two stage musicals, a live radio play, an offbeat film entitled "Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life" and, perhaps the most inexplicable version of all, "This Wonderful Life," a one-actor reenactment that is winding up its run at Capital Repertory Theatre.
Larry Daggett stars as a "Wonderful Life" aficionado who shows up at a movie theater eager to see the film yet again -- a tradition with him. When the film print tears and management tells the audience it can't be repaired, our "Wonderful Life" groupie springs onto the stage, spins through the film's story in a breathless 90 seconds and then settles down to retell the film's story, playing all the parts himself, at a more leisurely pace.
Daggett is an adept actor but his narrative efficiency never gets us to the heart of this story's heart. Daggett's narrator maintains arm's length from the emotional connections that presumably attract and bind him --and us for that matter -- to this story. We never come to know or feel for Bailey and the people of Bedford Falls. When all is said and done, Daggett's performance is an exercise in the craftsmanship and showmanship of narrative storytelling that keeps us at a distance from his story's emotional sweep and resonance.
LENOX - It's somewhat the same situation with Shakespeare & Company's third annual presentation of David Sedaris' narrative essay, "The Santaland Diaries," which chronicles the human grit behind the holiday glitz of Santaland in Macy's flagship store in New York, where Sedaris worked as an elf during his first Christmas season in New York.
David Josef Hansen is the third actor in as many years and it is the least distinctive in terms of asserting personality. His dutiful work skims the ironies and human element of Sedaris' account. It's not a performance that carries the illusion of experiences lived and remembered.
The characters Sedaris recreates -- his fellow elves, the various Santas, parents, kids -- don't come alive for us in any distinctive, memorable way. This third time is nowhere near a charm.
THIS WONDERFUL LIFE by Steve Murray. Conceived by Mark Setlock, Adapted from the screenplay, "It's a Wonderful Life" by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra and Jo Swerling. Directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill. Through Dec. 22. Eves.: Thu. 7:30; Fri., Sat. 8. Mats.: Sat. 3; Sun. 2. Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany, N.Y. Tickets: $60-$30. (518) 445-7469; www.capitalrep.org. 1 hour 18 minutes
WITH: Larry Daggett
THE SANTALAND DIARIES by David Sedaris. Adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello. Directed by Tony Simotes. Through Dec. 22. Eves.: Fri., Sat. 7:30. Mats.: Sat., Sun. 2. Shakespeare & Company. Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox. Tickets: $50-$15. (413) 637-3353; www.shakespeare.org. 1 hour 6 minutes
WITH: David Josef Hansen