FAMILY MATTERS IN SOULPEPPER’S LATEST PRODUCTION
Story by Odessa Paloma Parker
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
We can probably all relate to moments of embarrassment felt by virtue of pure proximity to our parents and family members. The personal peccadilloes we grew up around eventually grow on us, but if exposed to the outside world…tragedy (at least in our own minds) could ensue.
The 1936 play You Can’t Take It With You, written by the powerhouse playwright duo of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, explores the drama that ensues when love blossoms between Alice Sycamore and Anthony Kirby Junior. Alice comes from a band of merry bohemians (her mother’s a playwright who picked up the habit eight years before the play is set, “because someone delivered a typewriter here by mistake” as Alice recalls). Grandpa, the leader of the pack, up and left his successful business venture 35 years prior to where the play’s story unfolds – the perfect set-up for later developments in the plot.
Alice, although deeply loving towards her far-out family, is the most pragmatic of the bunch, and falls for her business tycoon boss’ son, Tony. When the Sycamores get wind of this union, they’re overjoyed – primarily because Alice herself is so happy.
At first Alice is apprehensive when Tony proposes to her – their families are just too different, she asserts – he implores her to realize that if they’re happy, what should it matter?
Matters take a turn for the worse in the second act, when Tony brings his parents around for the first family dinner. Pleading ignorance that he brought them on the wrong day, the Kirbys are greeted at the Sycamore household by Alice’s sister, Essie, practicing her ballet routine with her overzealous Russian instructor; Paul Sycamore, Alice’s father, is down in the basement working on his business – firecrackers; and Mrs. Sycamore has put the plays away for a spell to pick up the paintbrush (her current model decked out in gladiator garb).
After the initial shock wears off, the two families try to make the best of the situation, but the cracks in the façade form quickly. The rest of the story winds through the motions of downfall and upswing, without missing a beat.
The cast of Soulpepper’s production all bring a pitch-perfect performance to the stage; Eric Peterson (best known for his work Street Legal and Corner Gas) is excellent as Grandpa, quick-witted and clever enough to make the more subtle points of humour in the play shine through. In his notes about the piece, Peterson says that initially he “started off with a pretty modest opinion” of the work. “I worried that, with its gentle humour, loving relationships and sentimental, improbable plot, it might be too old fashioned…”, he explains.
Fans of the work of Wes Anderson will discover that a play like You Can’t Take It With You explores the same oddball family dynamics, and the same dark humour that the popular writer/director explores in many of his films (notably The Royal Tenenbaums). These stories resonate, and when well executed you really do have hit on your hands (the movie adaptation of the play won the Best Picture award at the 1938 Academy Awards, and the play itself won a Pulitzer). It’s clear that the Soulpepper cast embraced the humour and spirit of the characters and the story, and did justice to such a strong work.
Also noteworthy was the work of set and costume designer Christina Poddubiuk, who gave a vibrancy and charm to the 1930s-era wardrobes of the Sycamores and company.