Playwright Steve Murray 

Atlanta playwright Steve Murray takes a holiday from his signature witty, sexy shows such as Manna and Rescue and Recovery to adapt America's favorite Christmas film -- It's a Wonderful Life -- as a one-man show for Portland Center Stage, where former Actor's Express founder and artistic director Chris Coleman now works. The sometime film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution talks about adjusting to the pace of Bedford Falls for the world premiere of This Wonderful Life.

As a film critic, do you find it strange to be tampering with a classic film?

Not really. It's a Wonderful Life is more than a classic film now. It's become the States' Christmas Carol. It has a mythic resonance -- and at the same time, it's so ingrained in our culture, it's easy to tweak and make fun of. Nothing I do in the script -- like throw in wisecracks about some of the sillier elements of the movie -- can ever harm Life's place in people's hearts.

Is doing an uplifting holiday story a change of page for you?

Actually, you may have forgotten how dark a movie Life can be. It's got alcoholism, child abuse, attempted suicide -- and a spectacularly intense performance by Jimmy Stewart. The movie is uplifting, sure, but it earns it the hard way.

How do you compress It's a Wonderful Life into a one-man show?

You kill things you love. We're turning a 130-minute movie into a 75-minute play. Some elements just have to go, even favorite moments, like George Bailey wrecking his car. Honestly, I wish I could see [actor] Mark Setlock's 130-minute version of the whole thing. He's got Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore down pat, and sometimes it's a shock when he just talks as, you know, himself.

Curt Holman


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