Oldie Is Still a Goodie for Marshall Thespians


(Monday, November 26, 2007 4:34 PM EST)

When it comes to musicals, high school drama departments often pull out old favorites like “Hello, Dolly,” “Grease” or “The Sound of Music.”

But what about plays?

For many high schools, Kaufman and Hart's Pulitzer Prize winning work “You Can't Take It With You” is a standby. George C. Marshall High School's drama department, which is performing the play next week, shed some light on why - with so many other options to choose from - it remains a perennial classic 71 years after it was first published.

First and foremost, the message is “universal and still speaks to our time,” said drama teacher Valerie Karasek.

The play centers on the eccentric Sycamore family, and through some wacky adventures, the message of “life's too short to be unhappy” comes to the surface. The importance of family and acceptance also are key elements of the theme.

“The message works. There are still people trying to survive in a complex and difficult world,” Karasek said. “We're still having those conversations [they have in the play]. The story reinforces that we haven't changed much. Basic human behavior is basic human behavior.”

Although the play is a comedy, the department has a commitment to upholding these messages, and aims to dig deeper and go beyond the play's superficial humor.

“We can either play it as a farce or more serious,” said Westley Fallavollita, who plays the love interest in the play. “We're leaning away from the farce.”

While many high schools go the farcical route, “we are really paying attention to the relationships between the characters,” said actress Natalie Butz.

The focus on truly knowing their characters is evident in the amount of preparation the cast has put into their roles.

From developing family histories to improvising in character to staying in the part on-stage and off-stage, the actors at Marshall know their characters inside and out.

(One student, Scott Anderson, will even be shaving his head for the performance to be more like his bald character.)

The sheer size and makeup of the cast also makes it an attractive choice for a high school, Karasek said.

“One reason it's popular is because it has a larger cast - 19 or 20 characters - which is evenly divided between male and female roles,” she said.

“It's hard to find equal numbers of males and females,” said actress Natalie Butz. “[The play] is really rounded out. It presented a lot of opportunity.”

For Karasek, who is a new teacher at Marshall this year, having a large cast gave her a chance to get to know more of her students and see how they work as a group.

“I thought it would be a good way to see them work as an ensemble,” she said. “They're on stage together almost all of the time. For all the lines and dialogue, you have to work together.”

The combination of a meaningful script, lots of casting opportunities and humor are key reasons why “You Can't Take It With You” keeps coming back, Karasek said.

“It is one of those shows,” she said. “You'll get your laughs in, but it will make you stop and reflect and re-prioritize.”

George C. Marshall High School will present “You Can't Take It With You” Thursday, Nov. 29 through Sunday, Dec. 2. For more information, see the Web site at www.marshalltheatre.org.��

The cast of “You Can’t Take It With You” includes (seated) Aeneas Hemphill, Jeff Homan and Alison Klein and (standing) Scott Anderson, Ryan Campbell and Natalie Butz. (Photo by Peggy Pridemore)

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