If you think your family is strange, just wait until you meet the Sycamore-Vanderhof family. An eccentric clan of writers, artists, dancers, musicians and inventors who store manuscripts in the freezer, anticipate explosions from the basement and enjoy Christmas dcor all year-long are featured in the International Theater Program’s newest production, ‘You Can’t Take it With You.” Whether it paid tribute to the outrageous writing, the prowess of the cast or the sunflower yellow of the set, one couldn’t help but fall in love with this unique family.
The play showcases what happens when the most ‘normal” member of this wild family, Alice Sycamore, played by sophomore Jennifer Ware, falls in love with a young banker who descends from a line of highly successful bankers, Tony Kirby portrayed by sophomore Zachary Kimball, Alice is one of two daughters of Penelope ‘Penny” Sycamore, acted by senior Taryn Kimel and Paul Sycamore, depicted by freshman Adrian Elim. While mother Penny authors plays, father Paul makes fireworks, and sister Essie, played by sophomore Christine M. Rose, pursues a hopeless career in dancing, Alice merely holds a desk job.
The Sycamore family epitomizes passion at its finest. From playwright to firework designer, the members of this family love what they do just as much as they love each other. Kimel’s performance of Penny is just as exaggerated as her character deserved. And though I’m not entirely sure if it was the performance or the character that stood out more, I imagine that my inability to distinguish between the actress and the role can only be a good thing.
But perhaps the most passionate character in the family is Grandpa Martin Vanderhof, Penny’s father. Acted by sophomore Andrew Polec, ‘Grandpa,” is a highlight in both role and performance. As a former businessman who left his practice 35 years ago, Grandpa left the drudgery of his previous employment to enjoy a more leisurely life. The conviction of his ideals is made believable by a notable performance.
Now before I interject my opinion of the plot, I must confess that I am no drama connoisseur, no theater ninja. But in all fairness, I have been exposed to quite a few stories in my day and this one was just all right, or, well, ‘cute.” Granted this is a comedy and by suggesting that there were no life-changing epiphanies, no raw expose of human emotion or the like, I can’t imagine I’m doing too much harm. And in all honesty, the poignancy of the motto may ring a bit clearer to those outside of the la-dee-da-free-curriculum college bubble. But I found it a bit clich and predictable. What is that, you say? Happiness is greater than money? Love overcomes conflict? My god, do they really live happily ever after? At the time this play was written, I suppose those who suffered through the Great Depression would be more impressed by those who prioritize passion over security. But, in today’s age, the moral of the story could not be the highlight of the performance.
Rather, I believe it was how easily you were captured by the dynamics of the family. From the moment you set foot into Todd Theatre, you want to join in the fun. In one corner, a four-member band, who you later learn belongs to Essie’s husband Ed Carmichael, played by sophomore Douglas Zeppenfeld, is playing little ditties ranging from ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)” to Britney Spears licks. From the ping pong/dining table, balls are deflected toward the audience members in the front row. While Essie puts on her ballet shoes in front of the TV, people are throwing darts at a board plastered with the current (and thankfully, soon to be replaced) president’s face. The set design also plays well to the laidback nature of the family with Christmas lights and a handwritten family tree above the fireplace. The mildly frenzied clutter is inviting and intriguing.
And though it may be everything we expect, the ending is everything we hope for sweet as the romance Ware and Kimball portrayed. Even if the plot may be predictable, the punch lines never were and the characters most certainly exceeded expectations.
Sanehira is a member of the class of 2011.