Two diverse families collide with hilarious results in Westfield High's production of "You Can't Take It With You."
Set in 1936 New York, it will be presented May 7-8 at 8 p.m. and May 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5; call 703-488-6430 for reservations.
"It's a comedy of organized chaos," said drama director Scott Pafumi. And it takes the play's graduating seniors full circle, since the school's first production, four years ago, was "The Glass Menagerie," also a 1930s comedy.
JUNIOR MICHELLE Murgia plays Alice Sycamore, who's in love with Tony. "My family is crazy and wacky and has strange tics," she said. "Tony's from a straight-laced family. I'm embarrassed about mine and want to bring them into the real world.
In her early 20s, Alice is the only one in her family who goes out every day. A secretary, she meets Tony at work. "She has a persona of a sane person, but has moments where her insane family comes out of her," said Murgia. "Then she screams unexpectedly."
"She's challenging because her personality is so 'out there,' and her moments are so intense," continued Murgia. "But I like interacting with all the characters. They're all so awesome that it's fun to act with them." As for the play, she said it'll hold the audience's attention and will entertain the whole family.
Senior Jon Lawlor portrays Tony Kirby. "He's the kind, squeaky-clean Everyman," said Lawlor. "He's the boy next door; he makes jokes and wants everyone to like him, especially Alice."
He enjoys his role because "you have to concentrate on the little things to show his character. He lives in his own, little world, but wants to break out from his rich, conservative family and have more freedom to experience it all." Describing the play as "a really nice comedy," he said there's always something going on, on stage.
Tara Mitchell, 17, plays Olga the grand duchess. Since the Russian Revolution, she's become a poor waitress in New York. "Alice decides to leave her family, and I visit them and ease their tension," said Mitchell.
"Their Russian friend Kolenkhov has invited me to dinner," she said. "It's fun because Olga's formal, strong and commanding, and I get to speak with an accent." Mitchell said all the actors "capture their parts really well. It's like a comical 'Romeo and Juliet.'"
Senior Diane Rogers plays Tony's mother, Mrs. Kirby. "She's very serious, but goes along with the fashionable things in society," said Rogers. "For example, she likes spiritualism because it's popular. It's one of my favorite roles — especially when she plays a word-association game and completely embarrasses herself with what she says."
SHE SAID it's fun working with an ensemble, and the show's message is to "take things slowly, enjoy every single day and [appreciate] what you have." Although her character's formal, she can also get flustered, so that makes her more interesting to play. Rogers said the audience will enjoy all the physical and situational comedy. And as the seniors' last high-school play, she said, "It's nice to create these memories."
Portraying Mr. Kirby — complete with top hat — is Barry Armbruster, 15. "He's stern, conservative and generally projects an image of a man who works on Wall Street — a typical, 1930s industrialist," said Armbruster, who loves his part. "He's very much the authority figure and only sees things his way. And it's a challenge because he undergoes a complete transformation when he realizes he hasn't been living his life the way he wanted to."
He said the audience will enjoy the show because it's both lighthearted and philosophical. And the humor shines though, said Armbruster, because "Westfield's actors are very skilled at comedy."
Senior Derek Rommel plays Boris Kolenkhov, a Russian ballet teacher mentoring Alice's married sister, Essie Carmichael. "I was chased out of Russia because I was a loyalist to the czar, so I have lots of pent-up anger and, often, I have loud outbursts," said Rommel. "I'm absolutely zany and irrational, at times, and 'very Russian.'"
He likes his role because "I get to just go crazy on stage and be the loud, sort-of-intimidating presence. I get to be wild and funny. Once I got the hang of the accent, the rest of the character came with it." As for the audience, said Rommel, "They'll love it. They're gonna have a great time."
The part of Alice's father, Paul Sycamore, is played by senior Kevin Knickerbocker. He describes his character as cheesy, an all-around nice guy and the classic, stereotypical, Ward Cleaver-type, happy dad. He's always with his best friend, Mr. De Pinna, and his wife Penny — portrayed by Knickerbocker's real-life friends, Reaves McElveen and Megan Henry.
IN ADDITION, said Knickerbocker, "I get to be in the show with my sister Courtney. It's her first show and my last — which is cool." He said the play should be a big hit because it has "goofy, eccentric characters and a good storyline. It's never slow, and it has a good message — 'Love your family and don't let the things you own end up owning you.'
McElveen, 17, as De Pinna, has a bizarre story. "Eight years ago, he came to deliver ice to the Sycamores' house and has been there ever since," explained McElveen. "He lives in their basement, and he and Paul's hobby is making fireworks — which is illegal. They experiment, and there are always explosions. But in the days of the 'Red Scare,' people were on edge, so the explosions add to the tension and insanity of this play."
Also a senior, McElveen likes playing De Pinna because "the script lets you interpret him. Not a lot is known about him. He's also bald and overweight, so it's fun because I get to use my mind to create him. I do a thick, New York accent and make him mildly retarded." The show is also bittersweet for him, too, like his fellow Westfield Theater veterans. "It's a last hurrah," he said. "Most of us have been involved in Westfield drama since the first year."
Penny Sycamore is played by senior Megan Henry. "She's really full of life and in love with love," said Henry. "She writes plays all the time and, later, she starts painting. She's also a little melodramatic and fun — she's basically my real-life mom."
Yet although her character's a quirky, fun-loving person, Henry said Penny also has "the maternal vibe. She tries to be the hostess and keep the family together — while ideas for a play and what she's going to paint next are running through her head." Describing the show as an enjoyable sitcom, Henry said, "It's fun and crazy, and there's something for everybody to look at."
JOE SCHUMACHER, 18, portrays Grandpa Vanderhof. "He's Essie and Alice's grandfather, but he's really grandpa to all the Sycamores and to everyone who comes in the house or lives in the neighborhood," he said. "That's my demeanor, my identity. I'm nice and always willing to listen, but I do make my points when I feel strongly about something."
Grandpa is in his 70s and quit work 35 years earlier because he wasn't having fun, anymore, and wanted to enjoy life. "He reads, talks, goes to the zoo and practices his darts," said Schumacher. "He enjoys the changing of the seasons and takes joy in his family's lives."
Schumacher says he connects with his character's amiable nature and positive outlook. "It's also a double joy for me because I've incorporated a lot of my own, two grandfathers' idiosyncrasies and applied them to my character," he added. "And I can hardly wait for my family to come and see the show and see if they recognize any of these, little traits."
He said the show is filled with "clean, classic comedy and family fun." Overall, said Schumacher, it's like a 1930s [version of the TV show] 'Full House.' There's lots of physical humor and wordplay, and it's a play about families for families."