St. Marys Journal Argus
There weren’t, most likely, thoughts of selling more tickets to long-time municipal politics junkies when the decisions were made about casting roles in this fall’s St. Marys Community Players (SMCP) production of “You Can’t Take it With You.” But you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given that one of the most enjoyable scenes of the show — running through Nov. 2 at the Town Hall auditorium — occurs when veteran Town Councillor and SMCP stalwart Don Van Galen, portraying Internal Revenue Service inspector Mr. Henderson, goes totally against his natural political tendencies and, in keeping with his character, pleads the case for blindly accepting what you’re told by the taxman.
Van Galen’s triumph in the scene is that, even though he’s technically addressing the man sitting across the stage from him — the tax-evading patriarch of the 1930s-era Vanderhof family (he of the play’s titular “spend it now because You Can’t Take it With You” philosophy) — he sneaks a number of glances towards the audience. Councillor Van Galen?! “Just pay your taxes and don’t complain”?! What will happen next at Town Hall?!
Would a wink to the audience have sealed the irony even more firmly? Or would it simply have been too much?
The scene is one of several that helps bring a contemporary context to a production that, at times, suffers from the almost unavoidable trap of the dated, anachronistic feel of “You Can’t Take it With You.” It’s extremely difficult, for instance, to convince a modern audience of the value of the play’s dominant theme of releasing yourself from the sometimes unwelcome stresses and demands of your work-a-day lives. The audience is all too aware, after all, that it’s hard enough to make time to enjoy two hours worth of community theatre, let alone drop everything for eight years or more to pursue — as various members of the highly eclectic Vanderhof clan seem to have done — hobbies that are either completely mismatched to the talents of the individual by whom they’re being pursued, or just plain odd.
Even after last Saturday’s matinee performance, members of the SMCP cast and crew could be seen hustling onto the late-afternoon sidewalks, hopping into waiting vehicles, and getting on with their busy lives before coming back to Town Hall the next day.
The playwrights, themselves, should be given some credit for the play’s partial success in outlasting the passage of time. With some racy content (the conversation; not the action) and willingness to tackle some the era’s hot-button political and social issues, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart nonetheless were able to draw large audiences, and impressed the critics of the day to such a degree that the play won the 1937 Pullitzer Prize for Drama.
And those successes of the original version continue to ring true today. In particular, the build-up to and the eventual climax scene portraying of the arrival into the Vanderhof home by the antithetical, straight-from-Wall-Street Kirby family is priceless — worthy of any “Meet the Fockers”-style, marrying-into-a-bizarre-family Hollywood flick of the 2000s.
SMCP director LauraJean McCann, drawing particularly on the comic brilliance of Aaron Kropf as Mr. De Pinna, Brian Moore as Paul Vanderhof, Jessica Damen as Essie, Jim Hill as Boris Kolenkhov, and the wonderful Josey Christmas as Gay, successfully builds this scene into an explosion of hilarity for the Town Hall audience.
Even veteran SMCP props man Don Wells gets in on the action; even though his is not a speaking role, anyone watching who knows the work Wells has contributed behind the scenes will share in what is obviously his own enjoyment in finally being illuminated by the bright stage lights.
Other highlights include newcomer Emily Lagace, who brings energy and empathy to the lead role of Alice, Linda Harris’s truly frightening scream in her role as Mrs. Kirby, and a intricately stylish set that’s put to good use in this production.
Upcoming performances of SMCP’s You Can’t Take it With You are Nov. 2 at 2 p.m., and Oct. 30, 31 and Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Flower Shop and More in downtown St. Marys, or online at www.stmaryscommunityplayers.ca.