Nearly three decades before “normal” niece Marilyn tried to have a “normal” dating life despite the pronounced eccentricities of the rest of her family in the 1960s TV show The Munsters, essentially the same premise unfolded on Broadway in George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s Pulitzer Prizewinning stage comedy, You Can’t Take It with You. Young Alice is fond of her decidedly zany kinfolk, the Vanderhof/Sycamore/Carmichael clan, but she’s afraid that her fiancé Tony and his staid parents will not be quite so sympathetic.
Naturally, everything that possibly can go awry does go awry when the prospective in-laws show up on the wrong night for a planned meet-the-family dinner party. It doesn’t help that the IRS is after flaky old Grandpa for 24 years of tax evasion, or that spaced-out son-in-law Ed is being stalked by government agents for printing anarchist handbills (this is all happening in 1936) to tuck in with his wife Essie’s homemade candies, or that Essie and Alice’s father Paul has a stockpile of gunpowder in the basement for making homemade fireworks.
The antics of this sweetly-but-alarmingly dysfunctional family will come to life once more in the Otto Grassel Auditorium at New Paltz High School on November 17 through 19. Nancy Owen directs a Drama Club student cast in three performances of You Can’t Take It with You, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tickets cost $10 general admission, $8 for students and seniors.
“All these characters are so over-the-top,” says Philip Jones, a junior, who plays Paul. “It gets pretty extravagant at times,” agrees Cormac Stutzman, a freshman taking on his first high school acting role as Tony. “There’s a lot of physical comedy.” Everyone in the cast is expected to be busy doing something — and staying in character — even when the dramatic spotlight is on other characters’ interactions at any given moment. For example, Essie, the character played by senior Mikal Kalus, fancies herself a dancer, but is “not really good at dancing,” Kalus explains. So she must keep on practicing her steps and poses in the background more or less continuously, even when she doesn’t have any lines.
Kalus describes the entire household as a “very weird family, but they don’t know it.” “The definition of normal gets a little skewed, especially towards the end,” adds Jones. “For a few seconds, it’s controlled crisis. Then everyone’s priorities come out.” He calls the scene where everything goes haywire “a treat for the eyes.”
This type of wild slapstick comedy requires intensive drilling, discipline and understanding of one’s character to bring off “on the beat.” “Besides timing, it’s all about movement,” reports Owen. But there are quieter moments of tenderness as well, in a household where, as Kalus puts it, “Everyone just accepts everyone for who they are.”
“It’s a challenge to develop these relationships. They’ve developed a lot of it on their own,” says Owen with obvious pride in her students. “I love doing the fall show. They can get into it a little more.” That’s in comparison to the spring musical, which invariably has a much bigger cast, and demands more in the way of song-and-dance proficiency than acting chops.
“In drama, you learn more how to act,” says Kalus, who, like both Jones and Stutzman, plans to pursue the study of theater arts in college. “You’re more focused on your character — on how you and this team of people are going to work together and bring it to life.”