July 3, 2008 · Updated 8:29 PM
"Monday nights final dress-rehearsal for You Cant Take it With You, the Moss Hart and George Kaufman comedy set for a run at Whidbey Playhouse through Feb. 24, was explosive. You might even say it was incendiary.The play, set in the 1930s, revolves around the household of the eccentric Sycamore clan and its eldest daughter, Alices (Monica Wolfkill), courtship with Tony Kirby (Jon Conroe), son of a stuffy and straight-laced Wall Street tycoon (Berry Meaux). Early in the first scene, the quirkiness of the Sycamore family is firmly established as matriarch Penny Sycamore, played in perfectly daft style by Nancy Coe, pounds out play scripts on her Underwood typewriter, an avocation she took up simply because the machine was delivered to the home by mistake some eight years earlier.Meanwhile, the younger Sycamore daughter, the married Essie Carmichael (Amy Henderson) who still lives in her parents home with her husband, Ed (Don Par) prances and pirouettes constantly and clumsily on pointein the deranged belief that she dances ballet beautifully. Enter her father, Paul Sycamore (Wayne Locke), who runs excitedly into the scene with his latest creation, one of the fireworks he makes in the basement with his pyrotechnic cohort, Mr. DePinna (Jeff Davis). He illustrates his mad-scientist bent by setting off the device right in the middle of the living room. This is supposed to come off as just an everyday occurrence in the Sycamore home, proving just how bizarre the family is, and the scene would normally move merrily along.On Monday night, however, the smoke from the explosion set off the fire alarm, halting the run-through while the fire department came out to check in on the safety of the cast and crew and reset the alarm system. And to have a chuckle along with everyone else in attendance. It wasnt scripted, but the real-life snafu could fit right in with the kooky storyline of the play, which the community theater cast pulled off with lots of great comic timing and over-the-top facial gestures under the direction of Patrick Tyson. Hopefully the few dropped lines and a couple of character-name mixups in the dialogue will work themselves out by opening night Friday.Of course in this loony play, slight confusion might just slip right past audiences as intended.Even before any dialogue is spoken, those with an eye for detail may pick up on the clues to the familys peculiarity, which have been ingeniously worked into the set itself by scenic designer Mark Williams and the set construction crew of Meaux, Williams and Tyson. Built in unfinished, knotty wood for a rustic look, the beautiful set features a proscenium arch with one notched corner on the left side and two on the right and a purposely slanted stage that extends into the audience both physically askew manifestations that mirror the Sycamores mental state.But even as Hart and Kaufman demonstrate the familys bizarre behavior, the writers beg the question: What is normal? And by contrasting the successful-yet-dull Kirbies against the fun-loving if unconventional Sycamores, they make the point that conventional wisdom isnt always the best philosophy on which to base ones life.This point rings clear near the plays climax. When the Kirbies arrive one-night early for a meeting with the Kirbies, chaos reigns in the house: Penny Sycamore is busy painting a portrait of Mr. Deppina dressed in a toga holding a discus; Essie is in the midst of a dance lesson from the cranky yet loveable Boris Kolenkhov (played with a great Russian accent and plenty of attitude by Roland Gray), to the accompaniment of Ed on xylophone; and grandfather Martin Vanderhoff (in a wonderfully understated performance by Tom Coe) is practicing at his dart board. Subsequently, the two families clash at a disastrous dinner party that ends with a government raid on the downstairs fireworks factory. All involved end up spending the night in jail, and Alice Sycamore calls off her courtship with Tony Kirby, claiming that the two families are just too different for things to work out. But the next day, as Tony pleads with Alice not to run off to the Adirondacks, Mr. Kirby shows up to retrieve his son and ends up in an argument with the venerable Vanderhoff, who could have made it rich but decided 35 years prior to retire and enjoy his life. This doesnt sit well with workaholic Mr. Kirby, and the two duel back and forth about their relative tranquility in life, until Vanderhoff asks Mr. Kirby, Where do you think you get your indigestion from, happiness? You spend most of your time doing things you dont want to do.Tony steps in to remind his father that in his own day he longed to be a trapeze artist (at which point Penny Sycamore pipes up: Oh, how exciting! Did you wear tights?), but was forced into the family business by his own father.In that instant Mr. Kirby realizes he is unfulfilled by long days at the office and the relative comfort and security his money provides that there is more than that to life, as illustrated by the freewheeling Sycamores, who adhere to the dictum of the plays title. The audience in that same moment realizes, as the sage and wise Vanderhoff notes earlier in the play: Lifes pretty beautiful if you let it come to you. Problem is, people forget that.------------A fundraising performance of You Cant Take it With You will be presented at Whidbey Playhouse Feb. 1. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. The $14 donation benefits Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce. During intermission, desserts by Susan Vanderbeek of The Oystercatcher restaurant in Coupeville and beverages will be served. Tickets are available at Coupeville Pharmacy or by calling 678-1100. Regular run tickets for the Moss Heart and George Kaufman comedy cost $9 and $11, and are on sale now for performances Feb. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 8, 15 and 22 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees are Feb. 11 and 18 at 2:30 p.m. An opening-night dessert buffet is also planned for Feb. 2. Call (360) 679-2237. "