TGIF: The moral to this story rises above the comedy

Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

The saying goes that there’s always “one” in every family, and if you don’t know which “one” that is, it’s probably you. But for the Sycamore family portrayed in the romantic stage comedy “You Can’t Take It With You,” that “one” is actually the normal person. Everybody else seems to be a little off base.

Correction: a lot off base. Or are they really?

It’s another opening, another show for Brownwood’s Lyric Theatre, which begins an eight-performance run tonight. While the Pulitzer Prize-winning play premiered on Broadway in 1936, the more serious message it conveys drawn from the comedy rings true 85 years later.

Long before the phrase “do your own thing” was popularized and perhaps originated in the 1960s, many people secretly admired those who abandoned working lifestyles to follow their dreams — even at the cost of significant wealth. “You Can’t Take It With You” by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart is an enduring story of a family that takes the concept to the extreme.

“Enduring” is an understatement. Each year since 1939 when it first became available for community and school theaters’ use, “You Can’t Take It With You” has been among the top 10 most-produced plays. I’ve seen two productions, one at Brownwood High School when Larry Mathis was director of theater, and another in a black box production at Tarleton State University. Those were some two decades ago.

In the hands of more experienced actors like those cast in the Lyric production, the story takes on greater substance. For example, it doesn’t require a major dose of imagination to see these players as a parent or grandparent of an engaged couple. And when “Grandpa,” played by Jeff Tucker, ends the show with an explanation of why he left the business world to follow his dreams — and is happy about it — his advice is undeniably sage.

My hope is that when reserving tickets for this show, members of the audience will select seating as close to the stage as possible. I sat there during a dress rehearsal I attended earlier this week and was captivated by the subtle expressions and reactions actors on stage offered, even when others on stage were speaking. Every member of the cast is totally engaged, and those watching from the seats closer to the stage will reap the benefit.

Casting a show is among the most critical tasks facing a director, and Darlyne Ervin has brought together a group whose acting skills seem uniquely tailored to their roles. The cast includes several Lyric veterans who audiences will recognize, but a few newcomers to the theatre company are also featured. In addition, a handful of Lyric veterans who appeared in supporting roles in previous shows are portraying more complex characters.

Before all the moving parts to the performance get underway, the first thing the audience will see when the curtain rises will be the incredible set. Remarkable, creative sets have become a trademark of Lyric productions, and often the creative part of set design comes by necessity. This theater was built in 1914, and the stage is relatively small in comparison to many other venues. Things can get cramped, so staging can become complicated, especially when everyone in a cast this size must find a place to perform. Yet everything seems well spaced and natural.

But with that said, the set — the living room of the multi-generational family’s home — visually defines the personality of its residents even before the first eccentric character utters a line.

Other touches audiences will want to watch for include several special effects, along with engaging period music that bridges the moments when the acts open and close.

As I often do when I write about the Lyric, I feel the need to offer full disclosure: I serve as a member of the Lyric board, so I’m hardly an unbiased observer. Even so, I sense that many residents of Brown County — and surrounding counties — share my excitement about what the Lyric brings to the area and to downtown.

My hope is that the community will embrace this performance as enthusiastically as it has other Lyric shows this year. Ticket purchases do much more than provide admittance to the show. They validate the hard work of volunteer players whose primary reward is the laughter and applause of the audience. You will be entertained. You will have an enjoyable time. You will have some laughs. And you will be given something important to think about, before this fascinating stage family sits down for dinner and gives thanks.

You’ll be giving thanks as well.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at tgifcolumn@yahoo.com.