What lurks behind the holiday facade of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is decidedly dark.

It’s a story about suicide, after all, and main character George Bailey’s struggle with whether he should stick around for the rest of his life or call it a day.

Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s 1944 story “The Greatest Gift,” the much-loved 1946 film starring James Stewart as Bailey was recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made. AFI also named it No. 1 on its list of most inspirational American films.

Funky Little Theater Company will mount the theater version of the classic story Friday through Dec. 23 at its space on Pecan Street.

“The essence of the story is being grateful for what you have,” said Chris Medina, the company’s founder and artistic director. He’ll star as Bailey in the upcoming show. “Everyone has a bad day or might have a dollar-short situation. But in George, he’s such an iconic character in American literature and cinema because he’s such the underdog, and even underdogs deserve a good day every once in awhile.”

Christmas Eve finds Bailey on the verge of suicide, until an angel named Clarence takes on his case so he can earn his angel wings. After Clarence is shown flashbacks from Bailey’s life, in which he always helps others at his own expense, the angel intervenes before the depressed man can commit the deadly act. When Clarence shows him what life would have been like if he’d never been born, Bailey sees all the good he’s done and the reasons to live.

The theater company mixed things up a bit this year, pairing with University School, a private Christian school, to do a student version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” prior to the adult version. About 30 to 40 kids inhabited the roles, and some of those actors will roll over into the adult show.

“I never saw ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ until the school brought it to me,” said Medina. “The school said, ‘You would be a good George Bailey.’ I watched it twice, and I cried twice. I thought it was something I could be up for. I wanted to be a mentor for the kids.”

Medina said inhabiting the Bailey character, who, until he meets Clarence, has no idea of the role he’s played in the lives of those around him, has been an eye-opener.

“They (a person) could be the life force for somebody else,” he said. “They have no idea. You never know what somebody’s going through on a regular day. You also don’t know the effect you’re having on other people in daily life.”

JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM

Contact the writer: 636-0270

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