At first blush, it might not be clear why It’s a Wonderful Life is considered a holiday classic—after all, its main character, George Bailey, reaches such a low point in his life that he contemplates suicide. But those who stick around for the ending know Bailey needed to face life’s hardships in order to find out how good he had it. In his one-man show, Lasso the Moon, Sol Olmstead takes a closer look at why the film has burrowed itself deeply into America’s collective psyche.
Cascadia Weekly: What came first, the idea for a one-man show, or the idea to do something interesting with It’s a Wonderful Life?
Sol Olmstead: I’ve wanted to do a one-man show for years, but never had the guts to make it happen. Then, last year, I was walking home with my wife and spontaneously started acting out all the characters in the movie. I kept going the entire walk home and it just struck me that it would make great fodder for a solo show.
CW: How many times did you watch the movie to glean what you needed from it?
SO: I’ve actually only seen the movie three times. I don’t know what it was, but those scenes and characters resonated with me in a special way.
CW: Will you be doing a Jimmy Stewart impersonation for this performance?
SO: I’ve been doing a Jimmy Stewart impersonation since I was a little kid. Yes, Jimmy will make an appearance.
CW: This is your first one-man show. What interesting things have you learned about yourself as an actor while putting this together?
SO: There’s a lot of talk in acting about being in the scene and committing to what you’re doing. As I’ve rehearsed this show, I’ve come to realize that I am the scene, so the only way to do it right is to be honest with myself about what I’m doing and saying and how I’m doing and saying it. It helps that I wrote the thing, because I know what my intentions were, but it’s been interesting finding all the little ways to bring those thoughts alive and out loud. I’ve made myself laugh a lot—and cry a few times.
CW: You say this play is “funny and thoughtful and strange and seasonal.” Can you elaborate?
SO: The play touches on the reasons why we love George Bailey, because, come on, you have to love George Bailey! But it also doesn’t allow the story to move on so smoothly without some serious interrogation, which can be quite amusing.
CW: Have the holidays ever made you contemplate suicide, ala George Bailey?
SO: I have had some sad holidays, but none so bad that I’ve ever been on a bridge in the middle of a snowstorm.
CW: What did you learn about humanity on the whole as a result of working on this play?
SO: The main idea I’ve been working with is that George Bailey is a regular guy who’s just trying to do right by himself, his family and his community, and that sometimes those elements work against each other. He’s not a saint, but he does have a conscience, and the film does a really great job of showing how a person’s sense of duty and responsibility can sometimes lead them to feel like they’re getting less out of life than they think they deserve.
CW: Why should people come to this show?
SO: It’s a Wonderful Life is one of those films that nearly everybody knows. The fact that it’s 65 years old and it’s this holiday classic can make it seem antiquated or trite or overly sentimental, but there are a lot of themes in the film that cut to the heart of what it means to be a human in this society. This show explores those themes, sometimes humorously, always honestly. Also, I can’t stress it enough: My Jimmy Stewart impersonation is killer.
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