Sunday evening I saw a reading of "It's a Wonderful Life" at the Nutley Little Theatre.
Even though I knew the story and everything that was coming in each plot twist, I had a real good time. The theatre remains one of Nutley's best kept secrets.
The stage is in the attic, or loft, of an old barn. In all the times I've been there, this was the first time I walked onto the stage and looked back past the bright lights and up at the rafters. That's how it is when you're early and there's nothing on the set you can break or put out of place.
In the close-up, minutes before the show, you can see the black painted eaves and sense how small the stage of the little theatre is - about the size of an average living room.
And the seating area is not much bigger, of course, that's why it's called the Nutley Little Theatre. It's not named after some farmer named Little who donated his old barn.
At this performance, the stage is virtually bare, except for bits of this and pieces of that. There were some barren boxes and some pieces of sets between shows.
Along the back wall was a hula-hoop. Some odd props from some other show and a dial telephone adorned the otherwise nude stage.
Yes. You look at the U-shape tape marks on the floor, and the partial walls and the windows without glass and you realize it is a nude stage, not naked. It's posed mid dressing between the last show and the next.
Think of this stage as an actresss getting ready for her next scene, changing clothes behind a screen - and the screen falls down.
At midstage, the recessed partitions are made of an unpainted sheet-rock wall, stacked on the floor are step-stool boxes in black or brown & with cut-out handles for easy moving on a dark stage - but solid, so you could stand on them or schreech upon them a soliloquy from the proscenium.
Stage left, (that's on stage facing the audience, to the actor's left) a cut-out window has panes of black. So we wonder is it black paint or are the panes clear through and the black on the wall behind? At intermission, when no one is looking, we shall poke a fist into the blackness.
Another faux-window, stage right, is constructed of framed unpainted 1x1 lumber.
Along the wall, stage right, along the aisle where the audience slips in and out of the front two rows there is a rod, painted black - like the wall and the support boxes.
Near the stage, where the rod ends is a length of chain dangling, unaware that its role in the slave trade scene from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" is long ago and far away.
Fourteen chairs formed a semicircle facing the audience. There were two pairs of chairs, one set of five matching chairs, one set of three matching chairs and two stools (one for Clarence and one for Michael the head-angel, actually). And a few unrelated seats to make the total right for the number of readers we expected.
This cold December night the scent of warmed cider fills the air like a Little Tree air freshener. That can only mean one thing: Time for the reading of the script from the 1940s radio show version of Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life".
Oddly, no one mentioned the connection between Nutley and the film version of this show. Maybe next year.
Copyright © 2005 by Anthony Buccino, all rights reserved.
Nutley Little Theatre
A Funny Thing Happened in Nutley
Nutley = Bedford Falls