by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom
The Orange Park Community Theatre presents the Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman 1930’s family-values comedy and Pulitzer Prize winner, YouCan’t Take It with You. The New York Times listed this classic as one of the twenty-five productions that defined the century from 1900 to 2000. It first ran for 837 performances and has endured the 74 years since it debuted in 1936 because it is considered one of the best written American plays and still pleases audiences all over the world.
In the 1930s Americans needed to laugh because they were suffering the hard economic times of the Great Depression and they went to the movies and theatres to chase away their blues. And in these shaky financial times of 2010, YouCan’t Take It with You still has the charm and humor to help us forget our blues.
The story centers around life in the Sycamore family home in New York, with a dozen or so artists, free spirits and eccentric souls, some of whom are not related but live in the house anyway. The world revolves around Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (Ray Chute), who quit his job 35 years ago, and now spends his days doing what he wants, like going to commencement ceremonies, and collecting snakes, while not answering letters, not taking phone calls, and not paying income tax. His daughter Penny (Sara Green) writes bad plays on a typewriter that was delivered to the house eight years ago, or works at painting portraits, and makes it her business to give advice to everyone in the household. Her husband Paul (Dave Quirk) has a small fireworks factory in the basement and is assisted by a wild and crazy Italian, Mr. De Pinna (Steve Conrad), who made an ice delivery to the house several years ago and never left. Their daughter Emily (Essie Carmichael) wants to be a ballerina and has been constantly rehearsing for seven years, between making candies to sell. Her husband Ed (Stephen Lowe) plays the xylophone and likes to print things.
The real plot in this story concerns Penny’s attractive, no make that beautiful, daughter Alice (Kristin Walsh) who is the only normal person in this household and has a full time job in a bank. She has fallen in love with the bank’s vice president, the handsome and charming Tony (Cameron Henderson). His father, Mr. Kirby (Stan Mesnick) owns the bank and he and Mrs. Kirby (Brenda Cohn) have been invited over to meet the future in-laws. The Kirbys arrive a day early for the dinner with hilarious results.
There are even more zany characters. Fred Gatlin plays the bearish, larger-than-life Russian dance instructor, Boris Kolenkhov, who is constantly at the house to eat and to teach Essie to dance. His favorite expression is “It stinks”. Susan Caracaba is hilarious in two roles. She appears first as Gay Wellington, an alcoholic actress that Penny met on a bus and brought home to read her play. Mrs. Caracaba then returns in Act II, as the regal Olga Katrina, a former Russian Grand Duchess now in exile in New York, who works as a waitress.
Vernisa Allen as Rheba the maid, Antonio Ferguson as Donald, Rheba’s unemployed boyfriend, and Anthony Thomas as the visiting Internal Revenue agent and G-Man, are all making their stage debuts at OPTC, and were very good in these smaller but important roles. Rounding out the cast were Sarah Pentecost and Steve Cohn as G-Men.
Directors Rhodie Jackson and Vicki Lowe did an excellent job of casting, and all the performances were good, with some of the veterans really shining in their roles.
The co-directors also designed the set, using patterned wallpaper, a couch with a plaid slipcover, and a wooden table and chairs to create a comfortable but modest home. Colors included tones of beige, burgundy, and green, consistent with the decor of the thirties. Small touches, such as a candy dish in the shape of a skull and a suit of armor reinforced the eccentricity of this non-materialistic family.
The costumes by Trisha Williams and the cast were well done. They ranged from mostly comfortable at-home clothes, to business attire and formal dress. Alice’s gown for a romantic night out was a lovely clingy turquoise sheath that might have been modeled on those worn by Jean Harlow. The Grand Duchess Olga appeared in a purple gown, that emphasized her former status. Playful elements included a pink tutu for Essie and a toga for Mr. De Pinna.
The humor in this play is timeless and the audience was thoroughly entertained. I mentioned family values in the beginning of this review and Ray Chute as Grandpa is quite a philosopher when he says “life is simple and kind of beautiful if you let it come to you”. When advising the uptight Mr. Kirby, Grandpa says “You can’t take it with you.” He goes on to say “How many of us would be willing to settle when we’re young for what we eventually get? All the plans we make…..what happens to them? It is only a handful of the lucky ones who can look back and say they came even close”.
Thanks Orange Park for putting a little fun in our lives, thanks as well to the Tom Nehl Fund of The Community Foundation for making it possible.
by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom