Berks County actors bring to life a classic comedy, ‘You Can't Take It With You'

Patriot photo by Scott Weldon "You Can't Take It With You" cast.

“You Can’t Take It With You is classic comedy. It has quick humor, and some slapstick, but mostly it’s in the timing of the delivery of the dialog,” said director Tara Sands. “The family in the story is the Sycamores and they are a unique group of individuals.”

Fleetwood Community Theatre performs the comedy, “You Can’t Take It With You,” at St. Paul’s U.C.C., 5 W. Arch St., Fleetwood, Feb. 14, 15, 21, 22, at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 16 and 23 at 3 p.m.

Written in 1935 at the end of the Great Depression by Moss Hartman and George S. Kaufman, and set in 1935 New York City, the story follows “Alice Sycamore, the cheerful and lovely daughter of Penny and Paul Sycamore who has fallen in love with the boss’ son, and he wants to meet the parents,” according to the FCT release. “Alice is less than thrilled at this idea because she knows just how odd her family can appear to outsiders. She loves them dearly, because they are a loveable bunch, but she’s just not sure how to explain her play-writing mother, her firecracker-making father, her not-so-prima ballerina sister, or xylophone-playing brother-in-law.”

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There is her grandfather, who has been evading paying his income taxes, the Ice Man who made a delivery one day and never left, a Russian ballet instructor giving lessons in the living room, and intoxicated woman passed out on the sofa, when the Kirbys arrive, one day early, according to the release.

“It is an extended family living under one roof in 1935. They each have hobbies that keep them occupied on a daily basis. Penny writes plays; Essie, the eldest daughter, is studying ballet and makes candy; Ed, Essie’s husband, plays the xylophone and likes to print stuff on his printing press; while Paul, Penny’s husband, manufactures fireworks with a friend in the basement of the family home. These hobbies could be potential jobs, but since no one is making any significant income on these endeavors the best we can call them are hobbies,” said Sands, director with Assistant Director Brian Miller, a native of Hamburg and resident of Blandon. “And then there is Grandpa, Martin Vanderhof. He quit working one day and never went back because it no longer made him happy to work.”

Sands said the youngest daughter of Penny and Paul has a job for a company on Wall Street - and has fallen in love with the boss’s son, and he wants to meet the family

“Alice tries to prepare her crazy, informal family for a formal visit and she just might have succeeded... if the Kirbys’ had not shown up a day early,” said Sands.

Sands likes that the story is so very relevant to today.

“They talk about the government assistance program, the Income tax program, and the presidential office... well, unfortunately not a whole lot has changed in the 80 years since the play was written. The characters and the story of acceptance that they tell are so well done that they can really make us see a modern family, not just a family of the Great Depression,” said Sands.

Sands said this is traditionally their smaller production because it is a play and not a musical, although with 19 people in the cast, she said it’s not quite as “small” as it usually is either.

“We tend to choose an all adult cast show for the Spring Show since our student age members are involved with their school productions. It gives those who have graduated opportunity to continue to perform.”

Sands said Fleetwood Community Theatre is trying to grow their little theatre group and doing a show with a bigger cast is one way they have learned will help the process. This is the largest number of actors they have ever had for their Spring Show, this year dubbed the Winter Show because it was moved to mid-February.

“It was a bit scary to think that we’d have to cast 19 people, we had to hope it was a show people are excited to perform. Fortunately for us this year, You Can’t Take It With You was a good choice.”

Cast includes 12 men and 7 women ranging in age from 21 to mid-60s.

Ashley Frankhouser from Birdsboro portrays Alice; Jeremiah Hershelroth from Sinking Spring portrays Tony Kirby; Michael Pardo from Reading portrays “Grandpa” Martin Vanderhof; and Susan Bowman from West Reading portrays Penny.

Sands said everyone comes to audition for different reasons.

“They enjoy performing, they want to try something new, they’re crossing something off their “Bucket list,” they enjoyed it in school and want to come back to the stage. I’ve even had one person audition to overcome “stage freight.” Only in community theatre is that possible,” said Sands. “Just ask a celebrity, a professional actor, where they got their start, many will tell you about their local theatre groups. We bring all these people to a stage and they become friends. Some have become family. It is so much fun to share that, as well as see their talents grow. There is a lot of excellent, natural talent in Berks County.”

For the audience, they have the opportunity to see a live performance locally.

“You Can’t Take It With You is best know as a movie. Anyone who loves old movies knows this show. We are giving Fleetwood and the Berks County area a chance to see it performed live — a true 4-D experience,” said the director. “We are bringing the same shows that people pay hundreds of dollars to see in the big cities to our own town.”

“And there is nothing like live performances. The audiences become as important to the show as any of the actors on stage.”

Noting that while not everyone can afford to go to a Broadway production, almost everyone can afford community theatre prices.

“And you don’t lose quality just because it’s local talent on local stages. These are great performances because our actors are just as invested in entertaining an audience as the professionals,” said Sands.

Sands notes that many of the actors are familiar names to the Berks theatre community. Michael Pardo is playing the family patriarch, Martin Vanderhof. He heads the household of Penny Vanderhof Sycamore (played by Susan Bowman) Paul Sycamore (Randy Miller), Essie Sycamore Carmichael (Laura Jones), Ed Carmichael (Mark Elliott), Alice Sycamore (Ashley Frankhouser), and Mr DePinna (played by Bob Barskey). Rounding out the cast are: Jeff Jones as Boris Kolenkhov, Jeremiah Hershelroth as Tony Kirby, Stan Durlak as Mr. Anthony Kirby, Cindy Morgan as Mrs. Miriam Kirby, Melissa Kopicz as Rheba, Steve Miller as Donald, John Fielding as Henderson, Liz Limper as Gay Wellington, Cheryl Crummett as The Grand Duchess, plus Dean Fichthorn, Lance Thomas, and Adalberto Garcia, Jr. as The Three G-Men

You Can’t Take It with You’s original production of the play opened at the Booth Theater, NYC on Dec. 14, 1936, and played for 838 performances. The play won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and was adapted for the screen as You Can’t Take It With You, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director, according to the FCT release.

Held at St. Paul’s U.C.C., 5 W. Arch St., Fleetwood, performances are Feb. 14, 15, 21, 22, at 7:30 p.m. with two matinees on Feb. 16 and 23 at 3 p.m. Doors open 30 minutes before show times. There is one opportunity for Dinner & Show on Feb. 22. Reservations for a hot buffet are being taken until Feb. 18.

To Order Tickets call 610-944-3610 or visit http://fctspringcomedy.bpt.me to pay with credit card.

Fleetwood Community Theatre is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) volunteer organization of theatre lovers currently in their 26th season.

About the Author

Lisa Mitchell

Lisa Mitchell is the editor of The Kutztown Patriot and Managing Editor of Berks-Mont Newspapers. Reach the author at lmitchell@berksmontnews.com or follow Lisa on Twitter: @kutztownpatriot.