Northlight’s “You Can’t Take It With You” explores the darker side of the classic American comedy. Directed by Devon de Mayo, this production features all the classic vim and verve of the film version, with a much deeper message because of the difference between stage play and screen adaptation.
“I didn’t see the film until a couple weeks before we started rehearsals, and it’s very different than the play,” says director de Mayo. “The filmmaker seemed more interested in the male characters and the business world…To me, that is unfortunate because the play balances the female and male characters so well. The play starts with three women before we meet any of the men, and the movie took that away. So, I can’t say that I am a fan. The play is just so astonishing in its care for its characters — all of its characters — and the film just isn’t the same.”
In the play, Alice Sycamore brings home her fiancé to her extremely eccentric family. Through a series of mishaps, the tightly-knit family proves that love and laughter can bring people closer to happiness, even in the Great Depression. “You Can’t Take It With You” won the Pulitzer Prize for its portrayal of hope in the face of disaster.
Director de Mayo has very serious feelings about this classic comedy. “’You Can’t Take it With You’ is about the family you choose. That’s what makes a play written seventy-nine years ago still feel fresh and funny today. The Sycamores and the people they collect are quirky. But under this roof, they are a family. This is why the Sycamores feel so modern. For so many of us, the family we choose is just as important as the family we were given.”
“We get to laugh hysterically for the first two-thirds, and then are deeply moved for the last third. I think that elevates the comedy. There’s a real emotional pay off as well as lots of laughs. Few plays achieve that balance.”
De Mayo’s experience is largely in the realm of large ensembles, so she is thrilled to be working on a piece with a big cast. “This is a truly collaborative play where everyone’s work depends on one another and there is no star role or supporting part,” she says. “I am thrilled to get to work on a piece that is about all of us working together to tell the story and support one another.”
When asked if a period piece like “You Can’t Take It With You” qualifies as escapist or mostly nostalgic, de Mayo fired back, “Absolutely not. There are deep truths in this play that still hold true today. Many of us have been choking up in rehearsal when Grandpa says ‘How many of us would be willing to settle when we’re young for what we eventually get? All those plans we make…what happens to them? It’s only a handful of the lucky ones that can look back and say that they even came close.’”
“This play premiered at the tail end of the depression,” continued de Mayo, “and the beauty of that is that it tapped into a widespread feeling that hard times, in some ways, remind us of what is really important.” Certainly, many members of today’s audience can empathize with this statement, knowing that family- both chosen and born-into – is all that matters.
Northlight’s “You Can’t Take It With You,” directed by Devon de Mayo, continues through Dec. 13 at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd in Skokie. Tickets can be purchased at www.northlight.org.