The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 12, 2013

Merely Players opens curtain on 'Wonderful Life' radio play

By Tanner Kent
tkent@mankatofreepress.com

---- — Typically, Dave Peterson serves as the technical director for Merely Players Community Theatre productions.

So, it wasn’t unusual for him to be fiddling around off-stage during auditions for “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.” What was unusual, though, was the fact that Joe Landry’s faithful recasting of the beloved holiday film into a 1940s-style radio production included a role for a sound effects engineer. Since that role already required a certain technical skill and didn’t have any lines, Peterson figured: “This might be my perfect opportunity."

Thus, Peterson will fulfill his first-ever on-stage role when Merely Players kicks off its production on Friday.

"This is my first attempt," Peterson said. "But it's really more of a support role."

Still, the suspension of the whole performance is balanced on Peterson's ability to shade the dialogue-only play with a sense of sonic realism.

Though Joe Landry's manuscript preserves Frank Capra's iconic 1946 film nearly line-for-line, it is delivered in the form of a vintage radio play. As such, the handful of on-stage actors wear period costumes and inhabit an unassuming set. In place of physical acting, Peterson's sound effects provide an audible substitute for action and movement.

Though he, too, will wear a costume, Peterson has no speaking lines and will perform behind a horseshoe-shaped table piled with a variety of sound-making props. He's got a container of water for creating a variety of wet sounds and a door within a mock frame. After finding plans on the Internet, he built a homemade wind machine.

"We want the production to be as authentic as possible," Peterson said.

Someone, however, needs to do all the talking — and Mike Lagerquist will be doing a lot of it.

The veteran community actor who is returning for his 20th Merely Players production — though, it's his first since the late 1990s — is among eight actors who voice the roles of dozens of characters. In addition to voicing the roles of all the male characters in the Bailey family, except that of the redemptive protagonist George Bailey, Lagerquist is handling the roles of Joseph (the senior angel), Bert the police officer, Nick the bartender, and Horace the bank teller.

Using a variety of regional dialects and accents patterned on TV characters, Lagerquist said he's enjoyed the challenge of participating in his first-ever radio play.

"It's been great to be back on the Merely Players stage," he said.

Mankato filmmaker and multimedia artist Ryan Sturgis will be making his Merely Players directorial debut for the production. He said in press release:

“'It's A Wonderful Life' celebrates community at its best and reminds us that we contribute to each other's happiness and well-being, perhaps daily, in ways we might not ever be conscious of. This is the timeless gift of the story and why it continues to resonate so powerfully with us today."

For information and showtimes, visit www.merelyplayers.com.

If You Go What "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" Performances ■ 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; also, Dec. 20 and 21. ■ 2 p.m. on Sunday; also, Dec. 22. Where Lincoln Community Center auditorium Tickets $15 (regular), $13 (senior and $9 (youth); available at www.merelyplayers.com, 507-388-5483, or at the door.