by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
An early punchline from “You Can’t Take It With You” in the sneak preview Tuesday at Spectrum High School resonated all the more because it was election day.
In a 1930’s New York living room, Grandpa Martin Vanderhof, played by Josiah Roberts, is being grilled by a stuffy IRS agent, played by Kendra Rassmussen, over his perennial non-payment of taxes, so he inquires politely, Well then, what would the government use my money for?
(Three showings this weekend; see schedule at bottom).
Taken back, she mumbles something about paying for conflicts like the Spanish-American War. Hah, Grandpa responds, all we got out of that was Cuba, and then we gave it back. She tries again: Well, what about the President and Congress and Supreme Court, don’t we have to pay them?
“Not with MY money we don’t,” he creaks. The campaign-weary crowd loved that one.
(The agent leaves in a huff and forgets her mannish hat, which Grandpa cheerfully appropriates. He later quips to a visitor, ‘Like my hat? Got it from the government!’ “)
Otherwise, the laughs in this visually attractive (wonderful set built by parents) and free-flowing comedy in three acts, directed by Jesse Wagner, are generated the dynamics of three eccentric families, the Sycamores, Carmichaels and Vanderhofs, living under the same roof, and the shock of meeting them for a wealthy, highbrow couple, the Kirby’s, whose son Tony, played by Ted Cullen, gets engaged to Alice Sycamore, the only close-to-normal resident of the crazy house, played by Rissa Bolles.
There are snakes in a bowl (inducing a hearty scream from Mrs. Kirby, played by Emily Barta) and explosions from the basement (where fireworks are being assembled) and a big flamboyant Russian guy named Boris (Dakota Woolhouse) executing a playful takedown of a horrified Mr. Kirby (Benjamin Lambert) among other disasters which mortify poor Alice and Tony and ruin the Kirby’s visit to their prospective in-laws, despite the inherent sweetness of the household’s many residents. And it gets worse, much worse, before it gets better (hints: federal lawmen, big explosion, reputations tarnished).
The cast includes two Roberts brothers who do an admirable job of aging about 60 years each, with Josiah, 16, as the easygoing Grandpa who’s not as wacky as he seems while dispensing wisecracks and wisdom, and Nathan, 15, as bald, squeaky, cheerily agreeable oddball Mr. DePinna, a non-family member who spends most his time in the basement making fireworks.
Wagner (“I’ve done ‘old’ before,” he says) gave both heavy doses of light-against-dark makeup to simulate age lines, and the boys took it from there, working hard on the stooped posture, wobbly limbs, and thinned-out voices of old age.
“At my church, there’s an older gentleman I know,” said Josiah. “He has arthritis in his wrist, and when he reaches out, his arm is shaking, so I always think of that when I’m reaching (on stage). And the way he’s hunched over slightly, getting up and down.”
Nathan went a step farther, having the top of his head shaved bald. (Nope, that wasn’t a scull-cap, we found out after the play). When he e-mailed a photo to Mr. Wagner, the director responded, “You are REALLY committed.” Nathan said people at church wonder if he lost a bet or something. Asked if it’s tough to flirt with high-school girls being bald and gray-haired, he grinned, “I don’t care.” Now, that’s commitment to a role.
Lucas Lorensen and Kate Provence portray Alice’s parents: Paul, a kid at heart with disheveled hair and coveralls who helps Mr. De Pinna making fireworks, and Penny, who’s usually hacking away on a novel at her typewriter. Megan Hassing understudies for the Penny character and plays Olga, a Russian duchess friend of Boris’s.
Mary McCarty and Quin Johnson are Essie and Ed Carmichael, whose passions are dancing and strumming a guitar, respectively. Micah Foy plays Donald, a handyman of sorts, always popping in and out comically. Chris Bolles is Rheba the bemused maid who’s like another family member. There’s also two Spectrum teachers making cameo’s whom Wagner wants to keep under his hat.
The tastefully conservative set that puts you squarely in the mid-30’s — awash with beige, as are much of the costuming — is as much a star of the show as anything. Wagner lavished appreciation on Brad Averill, who volunteered his expertise and served as foreman for a group of Spectrum parents working on the set. Nicely-done costumes, hair and makeup were also contributions by parents.
You Can’t Take It With You
At Spectrum High School
Friday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 11, at 2:30 p.m.