Last year, the South Whidbey High School Drama Club presented “Just Another High School Play,” which is about what happens when a frustrated drama teacher bugs out on opening night.
Fact followed fiction this spring when a volunteer director had to step aside a couple weeks into rehearsals of the production “You Can’t Take It With You.”
Chaos followed in both situations. But that’s because confusion, slapstick comedy and chaos are in both scripts.
“Losing our director was stressful for us,” admitted junior Keagan LeLand, who plays the high-society wife, Mrs. Kirby. “But I had a lot of confidence in us.”
On stage May 24-26, this is the fifth play that Drama Club students have stepped up to produce themselves since budget cuts ended the theater program about 10 years ago.
Nikki Enters, South Whidbey High School class of 2009, is the club’s advisor who acts as producer. She led the effort to find an experienced director who would — and could — lead the cast free of charge.
Enter stage left, Ann M. Johnson, executive director of Whidbey Children’s Theatre.
“I came in about one third of the way into the process,” Johnson said. “I had to step up when Nikki reached out, saying, ‘We need a director or this can’t happen.’”
Johnson co-directed with Megan LeMay, a recent graduate, and Marla Kelly, a student and veteran actor who wanted backstage experience.
“Sometimes, when an amazing too-good-to-be-true opportunity falls directly into your lap, no matter what the other circumstances, you just have to say ‘yes,’” Johnson said. “Boy, oh, boy, I am so glad that I did. They’re bold and creative and they’re willing to do physical comedy,” she said of the cast.
“You Can’t Take It With You” is best known as the 1938 American classic movie starring Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore and Edward Arnold.
Directed by the legendary filmmaker Frank Capra, it’s a romantic comedy that cleverly pits the styles and philosophical beliefs of two families against one another when they become intertwined by the infatuation of their respective son and daughter.
The Kirbys are a snobby, well-to-do family led by Anthony Kirby, a ruthless industrialist buying up property in the neighborhood of the Sycamores, a passionate and creative clan led by big-hearted but kooky Grandpa Martin Vanderhof, who likes to invite in fellow eccentrics to stay awhile.
When the two families meet, forced conversation quickly deteriorates into feuds and fireworks.
Freshman Leah Kelly plays sweet and relatively staid daughter Alice Sycamore, who is dating the banker’s son, Tony Kaufman, played by Evan Valdez.
“She’s worried that the two worlds can’t mix, between high society and her family,” Kelly said of her character. “She wants to explore the possibility of the other world that’s fancier.”
Kelly said she had more lines to memorize than any of her previous theatre roles.
In one scene, she regales, “I’m so tired of cereal for dinner. Can’t we be a normal family and have a roast beef and two-green vegetable dinner?”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play, written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, premiered on Broadway in 1936. It lives on as one of the top 10 most-produced school plays in the country.
Senior Marla Kelly is cast as Ms. De Pinna, one of the many characters that visit the Sycamore house and never leave. There’s also Kolenkhov, a Russian dance instructor and communist defector, played by Brady Willis, and the Duchess, played by Megan Parker.
“Ms. De Pinna is a lesbian, as opposed to the original male character,” Kelly explained.
“She delivered ice one day and just stayed and started a fireworks business.”
Alexa Johnson plays the role of the maid, Rheba.
“I think the character is so boisterous,” she said, “which is like my real character so I get to be even louder than I am normally. She’s really, really close to the Sycamore family. They don’t exclude anyone because of race.”
Johnson said she looked up the original movie, “You Can’t Take It With You,” which won two Academy Awards for best director and best picture.
“I tried to watch the movie but it was in black and white so then I didn’t because I thought it’d be boring.”
Not to worry, this version is colorful, clever and cozy from start to finish.
— South Whidbey High School Drama Club presents, “You Can’t Take It With You” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 24, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 25 and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 26 at the school auditorium. Tickets-$10 adults; $7 for ages 18 and under.