We chatted with Jason Lott, the fantastic actor behind the colorful characters of Bedford Falls, about his work on Wonderful Life. Enjoy a sneak peek at this happy holiday production!
Q: What first drew you to this project? Was there a certain spark or idea that led to wanting to work on Wonderful Life?
It’s all Helen’s fault… Helen first approached me about doing a one-man holiday show at The HUB for the 2011 holiday season. She had been researching various shows based on It’s a Wonderful Life, but hadn’t fallen in love with anything. She told me she was thinking of writing her own version and I asked if I could contribute. She considered it for a bit and, thankfully for me, threw caution to the wind and agreed.
We immediately started collaborating and were continually amazed at the depth of the original story and how timeless it is. I felt that timelessness in every performance last year, as parallels between the Great Depression and the Great Recession continued to resonate. For better or for worse, those parallels are still with us this year. Just as George Bailey had to find his way out of his depression, so to does our country continue to find its way out of its recession.
Q: How many times have you seen the film?
I’ve lost count…
Funnily enough, before we began working on the play, I had never seen the film all the way through. I’d seen parts, of course, but had never seen it from beginning to end. As soon as Helen and I agreed to go forward with the project, however, I immediately went out and bought a copy. I popped in the DVD and fell in love. It’s instantly classic and infinitely loveable. I eventually had to stop watching it, though, as our production is based on the story, not the movie performances, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t try to copy them. I mean, there’s only one Jimmy Stewart…
Q: Was there something in particular that made you want to bring the project to a Capitol Hill audience?
I have always been a fan of Capitol Hill audiences. Ever since my first show at the H Street Playhouse (Painted Alice at Theater Alliance), I have loved working on the Hill. The audience members are so supportive and so smart that you can feel them absorbing absolutely everything you’re doing on stage. That connection is key, especially for a show like Wonderful Life that relies on the audience being a part of the story. It’s like having a scene partner you know you can count on.
Q: Are there any unique difficulties you think this project poses?
There are always comparisons to the movie and, for people who are die-hard fans, it might be considered sacrilegious for anyone but Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore to play the parts. That difficultly, though, is also part of the fun. We think that the story of It’s a Wonderful Life is so powerful that it can exist without those iconic performances. What is more compelling than a man searching for what he thinks he has always wanted, only to discover that he’s had it all along?
Q: What has been your favorite part of working on the show? Do you have the most fun doing any particular character?
Two things. First, working with Helen and with Gregg Henry, the director, are some of my favorites things about the show. Helen is so smart and so giving as a writing partner and Gregg is just brilliant about seeing what the show can be and then guiding me to get it there. The show wouldn’t be what it is without them.
Second, the opportunity itself to bring this show to audiences is something for which I’m incredibly grateful. I love walking out on that stage every night and knowing that the audience is ready to go with me on this hopeful and heart-breaking journey. Having the chance to help people think about things in a different way and see things from a different point of view is why I do theatre in the first place…
I don’t have a favorite character, but two stand out at the moment: Potter and Ma Bailey. One of the things I love about playing Potter is the challenge of bringing his humanity to the surface. He’s a tragic and wounded man and he has covered up that humanity in an attempt to survive. Potter does terrible things, but I think it’s important for audiences to understand why.
I also love to perform Ma Bailey. She’s such a strong, smart, loving, and resilient woman. She reminds me of my own mom and it’s an honor to try and even bring one ounce of that goodness and graciousness to the stage.
Wonderful Life is playing at the H Street Playhouse from November 29-December 30, 2012, and is co-produced by Theater Alliance and The HUB Theater. Please visit our website for more information and to purchase tickets.