81.7 F
Charlotte Amalie
Monday, May 20, 2024


Jan. 18, 2002 – Pistarckle Theater has gathered a cast of 18 for its rollicking treatment of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's "You Can't Take It With You," and their chemistry is great!
In casting the show, the net was thrown far afield, with rewarding results. The audience is treated to several new faces along with veteran members of the Pistarckle company, and the inclusion of theater students from the University of the Virgin Islands is a wonderful way to enhance the spirit of professionalism of the troupe while providing invaluable experience to these young actors.
The Pistarckle season, which got off to a hilarious start last fall with "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)," has lost no momentum and continues to soar in this new production, which previewed on Thursday.
When Hart and Kaufman won the Pulitzer Prize for this play in 1936, the critics welcomed it as a bit of fluff that distracted the lucky who could afford to attend the theater from the ugly, grim reality of the Great Depression. Many of us who have not revisited the work in years may be prone to give it a patronizing nod of approval with those critics who termed it "all absurdity," "superior fooling," "winningly tender," "full of hilarious incongruities and extravagances, without any serious contribution to social or political philosophy."
However, those who have looked for solace and refuge from the stomach-churning, mindless materialism and workaholism, the failure of the American Dream, the collapse of the family as a unit of nurture and support — from the complex malaise of our age, so rich in things and bankrupt in spirit — will be both amused and reminded. Amused at the hilarity of the play's over-the-top drawing of both the problem and the solution, and reminded of the carpe diem message that we think of as so American, yet which goes back to the ancients.
Those of us who have read Wayne Dwyer, Joseph Campbell, John Bradshaw, Scott Peck, Erich Fromm, David Elkind, Carl Rogers, Leo Buscaglia and company, all those authors who encourage us to "claim our lives," "follow our bliss," and "assert our individualism," will be surprised at how playfully, in the spirit of Moliere, Hart and Kaufman addressed these issues to the same conclusion back in 1936!
It's marvelous casting of a madcap clan
The central family of the play is the wacky, madcap Vanderhof-Sycamore clan. This group of eccentrics, artists and anarchists dance, play the xylophone, make candy, write plays, throw darts, feed snakes and practice the twin gospels of total individualism and total relaxation. Pamela Sullivan makes her Pistarkle acting debut as the lovable lady of the house, Penelope Sycamore. Her performance is beguiling, as is everything about her from her costumes, hair style and gestures to typing technique.
St. Thomas certainly lucked out when Pam Sullivan washed ashore! In addition to bringing a winning comedic presence to the stage, she is a truly gifted artist. Her set designs for Pistarkle have been truly professional and have set a standard for other theater groups to emulate. The performance space has its limitations, but she not only works around them, she uses them to distinct advantage.
Scottie Brower returns, after his virtuoso performance in "The Complete Works," as Grandpa Vanderhof. It is a wonderful role. The character is full of wisdom and insight, despite the fact that his viewpoint is definitely that of a rather brazen minority. (He quit work abruptly 35 years prior to the action of the play because it wasn't "fun." Now he takes time to notice when spring comes around.) Brower continues to impress audiences with his comedic timing and powers of communication. With the help of stage makeup and his own acting ability, he is able to make the audience forget that he is probably close to 50 years younger than the character he is playing.
Jay Cormier and Michael Kuich as Paul Sycamore and Mr. De Pinna provide comic relief within the farce as the inept fireworks manufacturers with a basement laboratory/factory. Their performance is symbiotic and laugh inducing, with the exception of the scene in which Kuich, as De Pinna, is modeling for a historical portrait of a discus thrower. Kuich pulls off this scene with all the audacity of a Jackie Gleason, and the crowd loves it. It is hilarious.
Priscilla Hintz is adorable as Essie, the candy-making aspiring danseuse. In fact, she is so heart-winning that the audience finds cause for resentment at the harsh appraisal of her talent by Bob Zulkowski as Mr. Kolenkhov, her instructor. Zulkowski brings restrained dignity and deadpan humor to his role, adding a delightful contrast to the zany Sycamores. Trey Thomas completes this triangle as Ed, Essie's husband and accompanist. His understated approach to the role of the rather slow-witted character is the perfect catalyst to serve as a foil to the outrageousness of his wife and in-laws.
Christina Harper and Tavis DeWindt, as Rheba and Donald, bring warmth and wisdom to their roles as domestic help and family friend. Harper is capable of communicating more in one facial expression than most people can say in 10 minutes. She knows this and plays with the audience like they can't resist her charm — and they can't. DeWindt comes alive in a special way when he is playing off a talented woman on stage. This was true in his recent UVI performance in "Rex," and it is true in this production. His continuing growth as an actor is great fun to witness.
Winning performances enage the audience
The central event of the comedy is the dinner party to celebrate the engagement of daughter Alice Sycamore (Dianna Gurske) to Tony Kirby (Carter Wilbur), son of her boss, company president Anthony Kirby Sr. (Fred Hintz). Anyone who can remember "The Munsters" or "La Cage aux Folles" will be able to see where the roles of Marilyn, the "normal" niece, and Alain, the straight son, originated.
Gurske and Carter put in winning, convincing performances as the lovebirds who are torn by the disparity of their family backgrounds. Reading the playbill explains a bit of the reason for the sense of authenticity of their performances. There they are described as "heeding the call of the islands" and a "recovering attorney."
Many have heard the booming voice of Fred Hintz reading scripture at his home church or telling a joke to a group at the Chamber of Commerce. It is high time this larger-than-life character put his natural ability back on the stage. He is able to put the audience off initially by his aloof and disapprovingly superior attitude and then win our hearts as the frost which encrusts his character melts to free his whimsical inner child.
On the contrary, the actress playing Mrs. Kirby does not have that advantage. It is important to remember that Mo Stanton is not Mrs. Kirby. It is an act. When she enters with that pinched expression that one wears when smelling something foul and proceeds to transform it over the course of the scene to one of absolute disdain and contempt, Stanton is just playing the role of a Leona Helmsley wannabe. If you encounter her at the Fruit Bowl or Kmart, do not slap her. She need not be punished for doing a great job in the role of a character whom the audience should love to hate.
Community theater is important everywhere, both to the community it attempts to amuse and to the performers for whom it provides a creative outlet. Joe Merck, who filled in as director after a wholly different "comedy of errors" left the company bereft, deserves special mention. He molded this marvelous assortment of island characters into a remarkably cohesive ensemble who both have and convey the sense of enjoyment and fun which is so much the heart and soul of the piece.
Pistarckle producer Nikki Emerich should be riding the tide of this success for all it's worth. She d
eserves it. Her years of dedication to bringing theater to the island community are paying off in a banner year.
The production officially opened Friday and will continue on Jan. 24, 25 and 31 and February 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9. Curtain time is 8 p.m. Treat yourself to this fine production of this wise and witty play. You deserve a night out. Your inner child needs it. The good feeling you will get is definitely worth the price of admission. After all, you can't take it with you!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.