First impressions are not easily forgotten. When opening the door on a chaotic household of fireworks, snakes and dancing, one may call a family’s sanity into question. This is an average night for the Sycamore family – but they were unprepared for the sudden interruption.
Opening on Friday in the Jan Popper Theater, the HOOLIGAN Theatre Company’s “You Can’t Take It with You” situates audience members in the midst of a comically uncomfortable meeting between the quirky Sycamore family and the conventional Kirby family. The play’s families are polar opposites, and to find inspiration for the characters, many HOOLIGAN actors channeled their personal experiences.
After Alice Sycamore and Tony Kirby fall in love, one might imagine a pleasant gathering to introduce the two families – but Ali Curewitz, director and fourth-year English student, said instead the audience will connect with Alice’s embarrassment when Tony accidentally brings his uptight, Wallstreet family over a night early, catching the Sycamores in the thick of their bizarre hobbies.
“The (Sycamores) are off their rocker in the most endearing way,” Curewitz said. “I relate because my parents are super embarrassing sometimes. Whose parents aren’t?”
Even though the play originally debuted in 1936, Anica Petrovic, a third-year European studies student, said the play’s familial relativity makes it timeless. Petrovic said everyone has a crazy relative he or she is embarrassed of, and in this show she channels that oddness to play her character, Essie Carmichael (one of the married Sycamore daughters).
Like the rest of the Sycamore family, Petrovic said Essie is full of energy and dances around the stage for the majority of the play. Because Petrovic is a dancer in real life, she said it is a struggle playing Essie, who aspires to be a ballerina despite her clear lack of talent.
“For the first few rehearsals I would stand in proper form as if I was dancing, but I was told I had to stand improperly,” Petrovic said. “It felt so unnatural.”
In order to channel her outlandish character, Petrovic said she has to believe in herself no matter how ridiculous Essie’s actions seem. Curewitz said she had her actors better understand their roles by having them write personal biographies for their characters.
“It’s a mutual process. I gave them general ideas of what I wanted, but I also wanted them to figure out how these characters work and what quirks they have,” Curewitz said.
Alec Oval, a second-year mathematics student, plays the lead, Tony Kirby. He said the biography activity really helped him delve into his role and understand his character’s nuances.
“Normally I’ll come into a play and think of where (my character) is at this specific point, but (this exercise) made me realize my character is someone who has lived his life up to this point. He has a past,” Oval said.
To help her actors find inspiration for their characters, Curewitz said she recommends they observe natural human subtleties and behaviors. She said learning from other people’s body language can be the most effective.
“I’m a people watcher,” Curewitz said. “If I know I’m doing a scene where I’m on a date, I will go to a restaurant by myself like a loser, order a tea and just observe people.”
She said that while several of her actors employ the same strategy as she does, other members of the cast use personal experience. To portray his character, Oval said he channels the stricter demeanor he observes from his relationship with his parents.
“I try to find parallels in my own life,” Oval said. “The Kirbys are very strict and very straightforward. My parents aren’t as restrained, but there are some similarities.”
No matter which strategy the cast uses to gain insight, Curewitz said the most rewarding part has been watching the actors internalize their roles.
Curewitz said the actors have learned how their characters function with each other, despite their different characteristics. As the interaction between the Sycamores’ bizarreness and the Kirbys’ properness unfolds, Oval said the audience will not be lulled by the comic discrepancies onstage.
“All the various quirks of the Sycamore family are happening at the same time,” Oval said. “It’s madness onstage.”