You Can’t Take It With You: Review



(Photo: Tom O’Brien)

Miguel Alves, Editor

Fireworks, Russian dancers, and Wall Street — all topics discussed in the 1936 Broadway play You Can’t Take It With You, written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, and performed by Centreville High School’s very own theatre department in mid-November. Directed by theatre teacher Mr. Hudson with assistant director Ysanne Sterling (11), and a refreshing breath from the dark tone of 2018’s The Laramie Project, Theatre Centreville’s performance of You Can’t Take It With You nailed both the comedy and insanity required for a play like this. The warm but cluttered set left a cozy feel that succeeded in introducing the Sycamores, a loving family as chaotic as the armchair in the corner they pile their jackets on. The chandelier was a nice touch, centering the stage around the family’s most important piece of furniture: the dinner table. The costume design, led by Jeremy Cason (12), provided a distinction between the scattered patterns of the Sycamores — as seen in Ed Carmichael’s mismatched button-up and vest — and the red and black formal wear of the Kirby family. The costume and set design worked in conjunction to enhance the many  notable performances.

One interesting duo came in the form of Aswathi Menon (12) and Evan Williams (9), who played Rheba and Donald, respectively. As a senior and one of Theatre Centreville’s seasoned actors, Menon brought a level of maturity to Rheba that worked strangely well with Williams’s innocent demeanor as Donald. When asked to describe his personality, Williams referred to Donald as “just a happy-go-lucky man,” and it seems as if Williams’s cheerful freshman optimism played in his favor for this role. This was Williams’s first high school play, but he kept up very well with the rest of the cast, especially Menon, with whom he spent the majority of his scenes.

Another star duo really caught my attention: Makayla Parker (11) and Danny Wells (10), who played Essie and Ed Carmichael. Their fun, childish relationship added to the positive nature of the Sycamore family, and Parker and Wells succeeded in portraying the very definition of “fools in love.” In an interesting contrast to the main relationship of the show, the couple made love seem easy — this was quite literally shown when Essie says of Ed that he just “came to dinner one day and never left.” There must also be something to say of Parker’s constant dedication to Essie’s dancer identity, as the show really wouldn’t be what it was without her dancing to no music at the side of the room.

Moving on to the Russians of it all, Jules Hoffman’s (12) character, Kolenkov, granted great comedic relief, especially during particularly sad scenes. Eccentric and generally just odd, this role was a rather tall order — Hoffman, of course, aced it. Everything from her fake Russian accent to the projection of her lines to her repeated excitement whenever she entered the scene made Hoffman a thread throughout the show that the audience found comfort in. Not unlike Hoffman herself, her presence on stage was a clear indicator that, Things will be okay. Kolenkov is here. I can laugh for a while, because at the end of the day, everyone can laugh at a girl in a beard tackling Danny Villalobos (11) in a suit.

Present among the comedy and chaos, however, was the ongoing love story between Alice and Tony, played by Abbie Bailey (11)  and Ethan Welch (11). The couple acted as a bridge between the two clashing families, and they connected well on stage. In a backstage interview during the show’s final dress rehearsal, Bailey described Alice as “anxious all the time” and “just wanting to make Tony and her family happy,” and her moving performance made us, too, feel torn between her love and her blood. She portrayed a woman who very much loves her family but is constantly embarrassed by them, which many can relate to, and she succeeded in convincing us of this. Welch, on the other hand, plays a man who is sturdy and unwavering in his love for Alice, which Welch accurately described as “loving confidence” during his interview. With Bailey panicking and Welch comforting her and telling her that everything was going to be okay, the chemistry between the duo acted as a rock that kept the two families together during conflict.

Bailey’s character also had a heartfelt connection with her on-stage mom, Penny Sycamore, played by Lydia Buono (11). Lydia, being the first character that we met, had the hard job of introducing us to the show and earning our trust, but she nailed it and continued to be, as she put it herself, “warm and welcoming” throughout the entire play. Lydia is also the self-proclaimed “mom of [her] group” of friends, saying that she’s “the person you go to if you need a hug,” so her role as Penny seemed almost perfect. Her commitment to Penny’s enthusiastic attitude throughout the play built up perfectly to crumble down during the scene where she cries in the arms of her on-stage husband and asks the heartbreaking question: “What if being happy isn’t all that matters?” All-in-all, Lydia and her brother, Joseph Buono (10), who played Grandpa, stole the show with their performances. Both of the Buono’s nailed everything down to the mannerisms; the way they walked, spoke, and exaggerated their actions really made it feel like something out of the 1930s. They both got into their characters in a way that good actors are known to do — it seemed like, for those couple of hours, the Buono’s ceased to exist, and all that was left were their characters, real and breathing and there; it was as if Penny and Grandpa had actually manifested on that stage, now trying to convince us that writing plays all day and owning pet snakes were normal things to do. It’s hard not to argue that the Buono’s had a presence on stage that really captured the attention of the audience, down to the final bows, where they received loud and well-deserved cheers. 

Though I only chose to highlight a few of the performances here, it is important to note that overall, it was the combined effort of both the cast and crew that made this play a genuine delight to watch.