Print Quirky family focus of Mingus’ fall play
Written by Greg Ruland   
Tuesday, 18 October 2011 00:00

Family values of the big-hearted kind pervade Mingus Union High School’s production of “You Can’t Take it with You,” the Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman comedy first produced in 1936.

Local theatergoers will recognize many of the student actors from previous productions, including last year’s Great Depression antidote, “Anything Goes.”

Director James Ball said he knows a good play when he sees it and understands how to produce it for high school actors, even if it originally debuted in the 1930s.

Alec Leman, second from right, plays the role of Grandpa and argues with the tax man, played by Andrew Benassi, while his perpetually practicing granddaughter, Essie, played by Cathy Furphy, stretches for more dancing during a rehearsal of “You Can’t Take it with You,” on Oct. 4. The Mingus Union High School production of the 1936 classic starts Friday, Oct. 21.“I don’t want people to think I’m stuck in the 1930s,” Ball said. “I like all periods of American theater. This is one of the most produced comedies.”

“You Can’t Take it with You” did not realize its full potential, at least during the first act performed in dress rehearsal Oct. 4. Some lines and character relationships need more time to gel.

Several cast changes are probably at fault. At least two stage managers, for example, were called on to fill the gaps.

For several actors, life happened while they were making other plans. Last year’s Moonface Martin in “Anything Goes,” Charlie Heath, for example, dropped out as the play’s patriarch so he could accept two jobs to support himself, Ball said.

Other actors were forced to leave the cast because of the demands of family, job and school, Ball said.

Despite the changes, gaps were hard to see Oct. 4. So many actors distinguished themselves, like Brett Janica as Mr. DePinna, Jessica Reinhart as Alice and Alec Leman as Martin Vanderhof, the patriarch of the slightly odd, but well-meaning, Sycamore family.

Janica, bald as a billiard ball, takes the stage holding a rocket. His bulging eyes and perennially surprised expression never fail to provoke laughter.

The family on stage shows off some peculiar hobbies. One alternately plays a xylophone and prints and distributes the dinner-hour menu for each family member.

Another stretches and dances all about the house in anticipation of her Russian ballet instructor, Boris Kolenkhav, played by a dynamite comic actor, John Condon, who relies on a very persuasive Russian accent.

“It can accidentally shift into French if I’m not careful,” Condon laughed.

Jessica Reinhart as Alice attempts to bring order to her family’s strange habits, at least for as long as it takes to conclude a visit from an admirer arriving to escort her on their first date. Her calm, confident performance captures Alice’s affection for her family, but also her anxiety about introducing them to her boyfriend.

“I can really relate to being the mature one in my family,” Reinhart said.

She also watched movies from the 1930s and observed her mom in action to prepare for the role, she said.

The Sycamore’s strangeness finally becomes obvious once Reinhart enters the scene. A house populated by free spirits probably seemed stranger back in the 1930s, but Reinhart flawlessly communicates a 1930s sensibility in her stylish blue dresses and bright red lipstick.

Strangeness accelerates throughout the play.

Alec Leman as Vanderhoff, Alice’s grandfather, suggests a mature Robert Young in “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” a television reference only old people will understand. He pauses and stares off, much like the white-haired Young did in the 1970s TV show.

As a grandpa should, Leman maintains a sweet detachment from reality mixed with compelling moral authority.

“I play Grandpa, the wisest of them all who bestows the central theme of the show,” Leman said.

His favorite part of the production, so far, was blasting stereo speakers as loud and safely as law permits, Leman said.

The story is simple. Alice is hopelessly in love with Tony, a Wall Street banker who works for his own father, Anthony Kirby. When Tony’s parents, the Kirbys, visit the Sycamore house for dinner, it is a “ball of nonstop laughter and mayhem,” Ball stated in a press release.

“With comedic scenes and heartfelt scenes, this classic promises an insightful and fun look on life,” Ball stated. “Enjoying every moment of life is exactly what this family does, and it is exactly what our patrons will do while watching.”