It's My Wonderful Life
nytheatre.com review by Jack Hanley
August 17, 2009
It's My Wonderful Life is Charles Michael Edmonds's story of his addiction to cocaine and his continuing path of recovery. It's a deeply personal story told with brutal honesty and gentle humor. By Edmonds's extraordinary talent as a solo performer we leave the theatre a little more grateful for our lives.
Edmonds has a strong and affable presence and he draws us into his story quickly. He flashes back to a night alone in his New York apartment snorting cocaine. With each bump he takes he struggles not to take another. He watches the clock as he tries to hold off for just a few more minutes before he dips again into the bag. His anxiety is palpable. Sitting down, standing up, peeking out the window—Edmunds knows how to use his body, his voice, and his eyes to evoke the tense, drug-induced atmosphere.
As his addiction intensifies he finds himself dangerously in debt to his drug dealer. To get out of harm's way he decides to tell his union-appointed health representative he needs to enter a drug treatment center. Since he doesn't believe he has an addiction he figures it'll be like a vacation—all expenses paid. A few hours later he's put on a flight to St. Paul, Minnesota (in the dead of winter) where the awakening of his mind and spirit begins.
He charmingly portrays many of the people he meets along his journey. And wisely he keeps these character portrayals brief and avoids any superfluous tangential storylines. He invites us to know him, to look inside him and see all the darkness and the light. And by his economical language and unfeigned persona, we do.
Edmonds is a storyteller; he has a great sense for the details that will stick. And director Alexander Yannis Stephano has perfectly paced the proceedings and choreographed Edmonds's controlled movements to have a poetic symbiosis with the language. I was struck how the places, the people, and the times of peace and tumult (especially when he is humiliated by racial profiling) were all conjured before my eyes. And the imaginative and effective sound design of Jonathan Goldstein plays an important part in conveying the temporal shifts.
I won't tell much more about Edmonds's story, because, well, it's his to tell. But I will tell you a little about the title. All his life Edmonds's favorite Christmas movie has been It's a Wonderful Life. One night he watches the movie during a low point in his recovery. In its final scene when the bells ring on the Christmas tree and George Bailey's little girl tells him an angel got its wings Edmonds cries. He cries because at that moment he realizes how precious his second chance at life is and how much he wants to live it. He thinks about that moment in the film often. And he makes no apologies for being sentimental. If this Christmas story helped him survive and continues to help him cling to the hope of each day then he will gladly keep it close to his heart.