Originally created 04/27/01

Prize-winning play takes a nostalgic look at family



You Can't Take It With You's odd but endearing Sycamore clan is like any other American family.

Well, any other family with members who experiment with fireworks in the basement, an incessant novelist writing away in the living room and a husband-wife dance-and-xylophone team practicing in the den.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy was written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman in 1936, when such eccentric behavior was considered outrageous. But Fred Elser, director of the Stage III production opening Thursday, said the Sycamores have become more relevant as the years have passed.

"I think it strikes a note more and more as time goes on," he explained. "Originally, I think it appealed to people because they fantasized about living that way. Now I think, because of the diversity of the family unit, they identify with this family. They see Uncle Jim, and they see the things Mom does."

The family farce, which requires a large, diverse cast, marks a new direction for Stage III, known mostly for producing smaller comedies.

"We are at a point where we have an audience and can try a show with more people," he said. "But doing an excellent show is always our primary concern," Mr. Elser said. "I have to look at what it will take to produce a play. That usually means doing a single or split set. Those are the realities of our productions. But we are progressing, and I hope we'll get to the point where one day we can do something bigger, like a musical."

Although the Sycamores can easily be viewed as a contemporary family, Mr. Elser said the sense of nostalgia, particularly evident in much of the dialogue, is part of the You Can't Take It With You's appeal.

"It wouldn't have been terrifically hard to update this," he said. "But I think I like leaving it in the time it was written. It seems to have stood the test of time. Sure, some of the humor is a little dated and some of the lines that might have once seemed risque now sound a little silly, but that's part of the appeal."

Mr. Elser, a longtime Augusta theater veteran, said You Can't Take It With You, with its broad, farcical humor and warm sentimentality, is a perfect fit for local theatergoers.

"I think Augusta audiences, particularly with dinner theater, really like to go and relax and be entertained," he said. "I think they will appreciate this because it is laid back. It isn't humor that hits you over the head."

On stage

What: You Can't Take It With You

When: 7 p.m. dinner and 8 p.m. performance Thursday-Saturday, May 5; 3 p.m. Sunday, May 6, play only

Where: The Augusta Jewish Community Center, 4316 Three J Road, off Furys Ferry Road

Admission: $30, includes meal from French Market Grille West.

Sunday matinee $10, no meal. Call 228-3636.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626.