“You Can’t Take It With You” is as colorful and joyous as a fireworks display

(L-R) Jeremy Farley, MacKenzie Kasbaum, Logan Kitchens, Nick Wasserbauer, Danni Hepp, Isaac Ingle; photo: Wright State Theatre

By Carlo Wagner

Walking into the Festival Playhouse performance space, it was clear that this play was going to please. Director Joe Deer, cast, and crew delivered on their promises as soon as the house welcomed us on opening night. The set was superb and acts as a prequel to the story, where, in each nook there seemed to be a lifetime of stories about the Sycamore family. Set designer, David J. Castellano, and props master, John Lavarnway, along with carpenters, Ian Ashwell, Steph Macchia, and crews, all set a high bar for the performance to come. The interior of the Sycamore home gave the stage a wonderful depth of space and color. The scenic artist team of Laura Dyehouse, Sabrina Nichols, and Carleigh Siebert create an appropriate atmosphere for the audience. Sitting in the audience waiting for the lights to dim, the set begs us to engage. It draws us into the world of the play.

The main plot-relationship revolves around the young love of Alice Sycamore and Tony Kirby, portrayed tremendously by Katie Sinicki, and George Heddleston. Alice, smitten over the strapping Tony, creates the conflict of the play through her embarrassment and anxiety over the unorthodox nature of her family and the higher socio-status of the Kirby family. This pair works well together because of a deeper attraction that has Alice longing for the familial stability of the Kirby’s, and Tony wishing for the happy-go-lucky lifestyle of the Sycamore’s. The first act is an introduction of the very dynamic Sycamore family, each one as quirky a character as the next. Part of the reason this play is so enjoyable is its large cast. It offers many opportunities for the students to savor each character’s development. For instance, at lights up, our matriarch, Penelope Sycamore, played with nuance by Danni Hepp, gives us an early dramatic indication of the delightful absurdity to follow as she mimes a scene she is writing for her play.

Because of the award winning storytelling, there is a wonderful build to an exceedingly chaotic payoff moving into intermission that holds up well into the final act. Our understanding of how the Sycamore’s operate plays in delightful contrast to the uptight Kirby’s when they visit for dinner, a plan for our young lovers to introduce families. This enables much folly when they all sit down to play a game together. Through this folly, we begin to understand more of the Kirby’s dynamic. Caught in some personal vulnerability, Mr. and Mrs. Kirby, played with strong presence and execution by Kenneth Erard and Heather Cooperman, seemingly prove to Alice that the stark differences in families will not allow for the young love to work out. The aftermath of this clash leads to an unraveling of the Sycamore’s as well, some questioning their own actions in life and whether or not they’ve been on the right path. But of course, the wise advice of Grandpa rings ever so true when Mr. Kirby is exposed as someone who actually used to care about things other than his business. Leaving the play, we take away a newfound desire to live life with verve.

Although each actor portrayed their characters very effectively, there are a few that stood out. A joyful Essie, whose dreams of being a ballet dancer clearly courses through her at all times. Mackenzie Kasbaum has a keen sense of the timing and subtlety of what drives Essie, who is not ashamed to use every waking moment to practice her craft. We would often become delighted in her choices and brought to laughter as Kasbaum followed her objectives beautifully. Her relationship to her mentor and teacher, Boris Kolenkhov, played out really well. Zach Fretag, as Boris, provides us with some wonderful, fun moments of articulation of character. The physicality he brings to the outrageous Russian diva dancer is brilliant. Kyle Krichbaum as Mr. DePinna, a friend of the Sycamore family who called to visit one day and never left, accomplished another fine development of character. Mr. DePinna resembled the energetic best friend to the alpha dog. It was fun to see, with limited lines, how he would emote through the feet, which would wag like a tail and showed us when he was excited, anxious, or sheepish. Of all the quirky qualities of the Sycamore family, Grandpa is definitely the solid foundation. Like a wise old Sycamore tree, he holds deep roots while aspiring to live in the clouds. Isaac Ingle deserves accolades for the difficult task of holding together the chaos of what unravels in the first two acts, especially his delivery during his pre-meal prayers where we are left reverent and grateful in the way he ends every prayer. These moments are made more poignant because of some lovely lighting by designer Jennifer Watson.

Wright State has launched its 43rd season with a play that encourages a following of the heart and an allowance of laughter throughout the trials of life. Let’s take a moment and realize that 43 seasons of theatre is a major feat. It is a true testament to the dedication for arts education that has lasted for the majority of the University’s 50 years of existence. This commitment deserves a standing ovation; nothing survives this longevity without continuously exhibiting the message of this play — living with a stalwart heart and ebullient laughter.

“You Can’t Take It With You” is showing at Wright State University’s Festival Playhouse theatre from October 4 to 8. For more information or tickets please visit Wright State box office or call 937.775.2500.

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