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The family zoo: Locally Grown Theatre stages classic ensemble farce

NEWPORT — You have to be truly courageous - or is it certifiably bonkers? - to quit your job as a business executive and devote your golden years to catching and raising snakes.

Such is the path chosen by Martin Vanderhof, the sly and jovial patriarch of the decidedly eccentric Sycamore family.

The apples don't fall far from the tree. Penelope, Martin's daughter, writes plays all day on a typewriter - not because she has a shred of talent, but because someone gave her the typewriter and she feels obligated to make good use of it. Her husband Paul makes fireworks in the basement with the help of Mr. DePinna, a former ice deliveryman who made a stop at the Sycamore house one day five years ago and ended up staying.

The world first met this crazy clan when "You Can't Take it With You" debuted on Broadway in 1936. Playwrights George Kaufman and Moss Hart created an endearingly daft extended family, who coexist in a Manhattan apartment during the Great Depression.

Locally Grown Theatre bring this rabble to life with their own production, which runs Thursday through Sunday at Newport United Methodist Church. With nearly 20 roles, it's the largest production in the company's history, director Justin Cervantes said.

"This is a huge cast," Cervantes said. "There are moments when pretty much everyone is onstage at one time."

The Sycamore granddaughters include Essie Sycamore, an aspiring ballerina who dances like a drunken lawn sprinkler. Her sister Alice is the family oddball - meaning that she's conventional, practical, and holds down an office job.

Alice's fiance, Tony Kirby Jr., is the son of a Wall Street power broker. She loves her family but is worried about what her socially connected future-in laws will think of a house where her brother-in-law plays the xylophone and her sister's ballet teacher is a loudmouthed expatriate Russian.

In the end, however, the cockeyed world-view of the Sycamores — "Do whatever makes you happy" — turns out to contain more than a little common sense, Cervantes said.

Small wonder that "You Can't Take it with You" remains relevant more than 80 years after its Broadway debut.

"It's a reminder of enjoying the little things in life and to stop and smell the roses," he said. "You really learn that from Martin Vanderhof. The main thing is to enjoy life because, no matter what possessions you have and how much money is made, when all is said and done, you're not going to be able to take it with you. What you will be able to take is your spirit and memories and you'll leave behind your legacy. So what do you want to be remembered for?"

If you go:

“You Can’t Take it With You,” runs 7 p.m. May 10-12 and 2 p.m. May 13 at Newport United Methodist Church, 1596 11th Ave. in Newport. Tickets are  $16.52 for adults and $11.34 for students and seniors (price includes online service fee). For more information, visit www.locallygrowntheatre.org

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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