When I first heard that Corona del Mar (CdM) Drama was beginning its year with “You Can’t Take it With You” play, I got excited. After Jacqueline Jecmen’s triumph with “Seussical” last spring, I couldn’t wait to see what she—and her team of talented thespians—could do with a Kaufman-Hart masterpiece.
“The show has everything from ballet to snakes to fireworks to Wall Street,” said Sarah Greengard, a sophomore and costume designer on the production. At the end of the evening, I knew exactly what Greengard meant. I also laughed myself silly.
The curtain rose on Penelope Sycamore, played by senior Claire Holland. We soon discovered her to be the matriarch of a rather eccentric household, which included her husband Paul, (played by Thomas Fabregas,) a pyromaniac; their airhead daughter Essie, (Emily Arenal) a wannabe ballerina; Essie’s husband, Ed (Maxwell Remington), a xylophonist; and Grandpa Martin Vanderhoff, (Mason Amdor), who kept a few pet snakes.
The residents were not limited to blood relations, either. Other live-ins (or, at least, frequent visitors) included Mr. De Pinna (played by promising freshman Lucan Stargiotti); Rheba (Melisa Ulkmen), the lackluster cook; her beau, Donald (Matthew Beyrooty) and Boris Kolenkohv (Blake Weise), flamboyant Russian expat and Essie’s dance instructor.
Enter Alice Sycamore, played by sophomore Alexandra King, the only “normal” daughter in the family. Alice dates Tony Kirby (Maxwell Peterson), vice-president of his father’s company on Wall Street. While she expected Tony to take her out one evening, an IRS official arrives to talk to Vanderhoff, who has evaded income tax for many years.
This ensemble piece allowed each actor to create a distinct, memorable character: Fabregas was as fatherly as Holland is housewifely. Arenal, constantly pirouetting and bubbling over with excitement, showed the same chops for that kind of role as she did with Gertrude McFuzz in “Seussical”—lovable, innocent, and darling. Remington again proved himself the king of understatement. Andor was a thoroughly convincing geriatric, thanks to a pronounced stoop, graying hair, and somewhat contrived Brooklynese. Strangiotti’s youth showed, but his passion for the craft was unrivaled. Ulkmen seemed born to play her role; Donald, in typical Beyrooty fashion, made every moment memorable. Wiese imbued Kolenkhov with his typical flair, and, I should mention, an unwavering—yet still completely intelligible—Russian accent; his jokes about the Communist regime were home runs.
After their date, Tony proposed marriage to Alice, who was reluctant because the two families—the Kirbys are stockbrokers—would never get along. Nevertheless, they agreed to give it a shot and arranged for dinner at the Sycamore Home two nights hence. King, only a sophomore, seemed too young to have been much in love, but, in any case, she made me believe it.
The next night, the Sycamores were involved in their customary pursuits— pyrotechnics, plies, and painting— with the addition of drunken actress Gay Wellington (hilariously portrayed by Fallon James) passed out on the sofa—when who should walk in, a day early, but the Kirby family.
Tony’s parents were perfectly cast, and equally well matched. Senior Dana Kadifa displays the same maturity she did as Mrs. Mayor in “Seussical”. And then there was Arthur Pescan, who to some extent played a theatrical version of himself. The noted senior has made his mark in many arenas on campus; this time, it was the stage, and he was just as good as you expect—because he’s that good at everything. The contrast between the straight-laced couple and the flyaway family set a comedic juggernaut in motion that all but made up for the shaky beginning.
Until it’s not so hilarious anymore. In a case of art imitating life, the IRS shows up again. Three CdM teachers played the three agents; several of them made cameos during the show’s run. The audience reaction to the surprise was formidable, but was quickly surpassed by a thrilling bit of smoke and mirrors that concludes the first act and reminds one more of “The Phantom of the Opera” than “Death of a Salesman.”
After the catastrophic dinner party (replayed, in a brilliant piece of staging, by alternating lights between the narration and action outside the house) Alice was ready to leave her eccentric family behind. No one in her family (not even Tony) could change her mind. Mr. Kirby came to collect his son, when, seemingly out of nowhere, Grandpa Vanderhoff interfered. In a pivotal monologue, he explained that he quit working because his job was unfulfilling. He suspected the same thing of Mr. Kirby, who, of course, found the whole thing preposterous.
“One cannot just have one’s business willy-nilly,” Pescan asserted. “You can’t live without it.” “Why not?” asked Vanderhoff. “You can’t take it with you.”
Both hilarious and heartwarming, “You Can’t Take it With You” has stood the test of time and earned its place in the American dramatic repertoire. In their first play of the year, CdM Drama left a lasting impression.