By Mike Chaiken
Southington Community Theatre director Amanda Savio Guay knew the name but that was about it.
Guay said she wanted to direct something for SCT, but unsure what.
“Someone suggested this show,” said Guay.
“This show” was “You Can’t Take It With You” by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, which was a highly popular play when it came out, playing eventually for 837 performances and winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1937. It was later turned into a popular movie directed by the legendary Frank Capra that starred Lionel Barrymore and Jimmy Stewart.
However, Guay said, that despite its historic popularity, “I think I’m the only theater junkie who hasn’t seen the stage or movie version of ‘You Can’t Take It With You,’ so I had no idea what it looked like or what it was about.”
“But the more I mentioned the title to people, the more enthusiastic response I received, so by the time I read it, I was almost sure I was going to do it. And when I read it, that sealed the deal,” said Guay.
And from May 2 to 4, at 7:30 p.m. each night, Southington Community Theatre will mount its production of the classic screwball comedy.
The show essentially follows the wack-a-doodle Sycamore family, which marches to the beat of its own drummer—or xylophone—much to the consternation of everyone else, including the Internal Revenue Service.
“‘You Can’t Take It With You’ is a perfect SCT show because the large cast of 19 allows for us to showcase some of our great talent in a non-musical environment,” said Guay when asked what made the show and her performers mesh well. “So many of the straight plays (non-musicals) we’ve done have small casts – I think the biggest one over the past few years had 10 people- and ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ allows for a large ensemble to work together and make a great show.”
As for the actors Guay has assembled for the show, she said, “The thing I love about this cast is that it is made up of some SCT veterans and some people brand new to the group. Some people have done the show before and others, like me, have not. I’m proud of this cast because they started bringing life to their characters from the first read-through.”
“You Can’t Take It With You,” like many comedies of its era, has many things go on all at once during the action, adding to the comedy within, while making it a tough beast for a director to control.
“There are a couple of points in the show where there is absolute chaos on the stage – fireworks going off, government men showing up, crazy ballet dancing, xylophone playing, painting – everything happening at the same time, with, of course, shouting and screaming,” explained Guay.
“While it looks like chaos, it’s an orchestrated chaos – the result of going over those scenes again and again to make sure they look right and everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing and where they are supposed to be at any given moment,” said Guay. “Like anything else, it’s practice, practice, practice until we get it right.”
Although the getting the right results is hard work, when it’s right, it’s magic. “It’s so much fun to watch as a director, and I hope it’s fun for (the actors) to do,” said Guay.
The show dates back to the heart of the Great Depression. But Guay said it still works in the heart of the current Great Recession.
“Sure, the show is set in the 1930s, but its core story is about family relationships, and in particular, the Sycamore family,” explained Guay. “This family is odd and eccentric and has many odd pursuits to fill their days, from fireworks-making to xylophone-playing to playwriting— the happy result of a typewriter accidentally delivered to the Sycamore house eight years prior. The youngest daughter of the family, Alice, has a new love, but has convinced herself that it will never work long-term because her family is too strange for her boyfriend’s straight-laced, uptight parents.”
All that said, explained Guay. “We learn, of course, that ‘you can’t take it with you’- that no matter what financial or social success you achieve in life doesn’t matter if you didn’t enjoy the ride. That doing what you love is the most important thing of all, and is the only path to true happiness. That lesson is relevant no matter what year it is, and it’s a message that bears repeating and remembering.”
As for what people can expect when they turn out May 2 to 4 at DePaolo Middle School in Southington, Guay said, “I think audiences are going to love this show because it’s such a classic, and so many people have personal memories associated with it – whether they were in a production of it in high school, saw the movie, or have simply seen it on stage before. I have had many people come up to me to tell me about their fond memories of the show. And the fact is, it’s a really, really funny play.”
“I think audiences will once again be truly impressed by the talent from people in their own community,” said Guay. “I’m really so proud of the show and everyone in it.”
“You Can’t Take it With You” will be performed by Southington Community Theatre from May 2 to 4, 7:30 p.m. each night. Performances are at DePaolo Middle School, 385 Pleasant St., Southington. Tickets are $15 at the door or $12 in advance at Just for You… Country Gifts at 979 Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike, Southington or The Music Shop, 405 Queen St., Southington.For more information, call (860) 543-3865.