A new East End Christmas tradition is in the works at Center Stage at the Southampton Cultural Center.
The theater company is bringing playwright Joe Landry’s live radio play of “It’s A Wonderful Life” back to the stage this weekend, and they’re adding a new production of Mr. Landry’s radio play version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to their season the following weekend, just as the holidays get underway.
“A Christmas Carol,” long traditionally staged during the holiday season at theaters throughout the country, is a production East Enders would formerly have to travel to see.
Center Stage Director Michael Disher is hoping to bring in a larger audience by expanding his theater’s repertoire of Christmas productions.
“Maybe people like more of a Victorian story, but maybe they prefer the story from a Jimmy Stewart classic movie. Maybe they’ll come twice,” he said while driving to Connecticut to pick up stage props last weekend.
Performances of “It’s a Wonderful Life” will be Friday, Nov, 25 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 27 at 2 and 5 p.m. Performances of “A Christmas Carol” will be Friday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3 at 2, 5 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 4 at 2 and 5 p.m.
Mr. Disher is delighted by the ingeniousness of the radio play format — in which actors perform as if they were on the radio, with on-stage Foley sound effects, but with staging that takes into account the visual elements missing from a pure radio experience.
“Radio plays are so different from actual stage plays, where the actors go in knowing the dialogue and physicality that has to happen,” he said. “There’s more of an accentuated vocal prowess that is needed for this. It’s radio, but at the same time the audience viewing this will be a studio audience, so there has to be that interest physically as well in how people interact.
The show pays special attention to 1940s period costumes, Christmas decorations, and the feel of a radio station of the period.
“I love the 1940s, the country right after World War II. It was a terrific period,” said Mr. Disher. “Maybe it works out as a reminder to people of what is important. That’s what I’ve loved so much about this voyage. With the Jimmy Stewart character, you see that one man’s life touches so many others, and when he’s gone, it leaves a big hole. Everybody does make a big difference, no matter what they do.”
“And Scrooge learns a lesson that life is loving,” he added. “That’s just as valuable as gold.”
Carol L. Sjoholm and Kristin Guldi, who both have mostly worked with Center Stage as stage managers, will be in charge of the sound effects.
“They have masterminded ingenious effects. That’s another layer of the story you’re listening to and watching,” said Mr Disher. “You’d think for a period that was less complicated by technology that there would be something easier about it, and yet there isn’t. They just made the most of the resources they had at the time.”
The cast includes both newcomers and veterans of Center Stage’s prior radio productions, including Richard Adler, Daniel Becker, Dane DuPuis, Rebecca Edana, Sheree Elder, Tim Ferris, Richard Gardini, Joey Giovingo, Bonnie Grice, John Higgins, Barbara Jo Howard, Samuel Johnson, Joan Lyons, Geoffrey Milton, Deb Rothaug, Jack Seabury, Edna Winston and Gerri Wilson.
The productions begin with the cast members arriving through the front door, intermingling with the audience as they enjoy warm cider and the theater’s traditional Cookie Walk before the actors take their places on stage.
“How can you go wrong with fresh baked cookies, warm cider, beautiful period costumes and a lot of laughter,” said Mr. Disher. “If it gives people the opportunity to smile and just slow down for an hour and a half, I’ve done my job.”
Tickets to both shows are $20.00 for adults and $10 for students under 21. They can be purchased online at www.scc-arts.org or by calling 631.287.4377.