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The H Street Playhouse Had a “Wonderful Life”

Tom RisenBy Tom Risen on Jan 08, 2013 | Add a Comment Add a Comment (84)

The H Street Playhouse Had a “Wonderful Life”

The H Street Playhouse will close its doors on Jan. 31, but one of its final performances reminded audiences that, “no one is a failure who has friends,” as film director Frank Capra said.

The H Street Playhouse is the latest casualty of landlords seeking higher rents in the Atlas District of Northeast DC, which was ironically made possible after creative businesses such as the playhouse attracted customers to the once-blighted neighborhood. The black box theater will reopen in February as the Anacostia Playhouse at 2020 Shannon Place, SE, said H Street Playhouse co-founder Adele Robey.

“Hopefully economic development will follow much the same as it did on H Street,” Robey said. “However, the residents are just as interested, if not more so, in having high quality theater and music performances east of the river, as well as the after school and education programs we intend to initiate.”

Adele Robey and her husband Bruce bought the H Street Playhouse building in 2001 when it was French's Soul Food Restaurant. After Bruce died in 2009 she sold the building and took out a three-year lease, she said.

“The playhouse really started the entire shift in consciousness about H Street,” said Washington Theater Alliance Artistic Director Colin Hovde, who added there are no plans yet on what business will fill its space.

It’s ironic that the December-long run of “Wonderful Life,” a stage adaptation of Frank Capra’s film, is about a man distraught because he can’t pay his bills, Hovde said.

The play tells the story of American everyman George Bailey, whose Bailey Building & Loan is constantly threatened by bitter, greedy millionaire Henry Potter, who wants to control the entire town of Bedford Falls. After Bailey’s father dies he gives up dreams of college and world travel, steadily resigning himself to the role of small-town hero by keeping the struggling family business going. Then one day Potter shoves him to the edge of bankruptcy and Bailey wonders if his life of sacrifice and charity has been for nothing.

In that dark hour Bailey sees what the world would be like without him and realizes that giving back to a community affects the world in ways people cannot imagine. This is especially relevant for H Street Playhouse and the DC theater scene because "plays are not budgeted to make a profit," Hovde said.

The classic ensemble cast was played entirely by Jason Lott, who co-wrote the piece as a series of monologues for each of the memorable characters that shows each of their perspectives on life. The best example was giving Potter a back-story as miser who became bitter and obsessed with individualistic survival after nearly dying from polio at the age of 19.

“That’s what theater really is about, it’s about helping people look at thing from a different perspective,” Lott said.

Key events in the storyline are covered by interludes with Clarence the Guardian Angel, who shows Bailey a world without him where his friends are lonely and where Potter has built a drunken tourist trap out of H Street… I mean Bedford Falls.

“It’s very important that people take away from our production that you can’t just be alone in this world. If the world is going to work, you have to work with other people,” Lott explained.

With that in mind the Theater Alliance has big plans for its new home in Anacostia. You can follow the theater company at www.theateralliance.com.

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