Living life for the moment
Ashfield Community Theater’s light-hearted comedy opens Friday
Some of the cast go through a scene under the watchful eyes of director Martin Shell and other cast members.
Tom Kokonowski as Paul and Gene Gramarossa as Mr. De Pinna admire a rocket during a scenein rehearsal.
We’ve all heard the expression “you can’t take it with you,” but in the 1937 comedy by Moss Hart and George Kaufman, a local theater group brings new meaning to the phrase.
The light-hearted comedy, “You Can’t Take It With You,” is about living life in the moment and pursuing whatever dreams you might have. It revolves around the Sycamore family, a quirky tribe, each of whom loves his or her hobby, which include building fireworks, making candy, writing plays and ballet.
The Sycamores have lots of visitors, including the ex-Grand Duchess of Russia, who has become a waitress, and a daughter — think Marilyn Munster (the normal one) — who falls in love with a stuffy banker’s son and brings the in-law home to meet her family.
Ashfield Community Theater has been producing high-quality, thought-provoking local theater since 2002 and this production is no exception.
“I’ve done three other shows with Ashfield Community Theater, but this is my biggest part so far,” says Jackie Walsh of Shelburne Falls, who is also the producer of the play.
Walsh joined the theater group in 2010.
“I’ve been acting for a while,” says Walsh. “When my daughter, who is now in college, was in fourth grade, I went to see a play her teacher was acting in. I said to myself, ‘Wow! I could do that,’ and I started doing it.”
Walsh plays the mother in “You Can’t Take It With You.” She says the role isn’t far from the truth of her “real life.”
“She’s a playwright,” says Walsh. “There’s lots going on around her, but she’s determined to get the play she’s working on written. I have actually taken some time off to write this year.”
Walsh has been working at a local school, but hopes this year to finish a children’s book.
“We’ve got a lot of good actors in this area,” says Walsh. “I think a lot of people think that it’s just a bunch of their neighbors playing on stage, but most of these actors take their work very seriously.”
Walsh says rehearsals began in April.
“The play is all about family,” she says. “We all love each other and we’re very family-oriented, but none of us is going to give up our particular hobby. My husband is downstairs trying to perfect fireworks, while I plug away upstairs on my play.”
Martin Shell, a theater professor at Springfield College, is directing the production.
“This is a good group of actors,” says Shell. “I’ve directed plays for Ashfield a few times. The first was about six years ago.”
Shell says he takes his work very seriously, but also expects everyone to have fun and relax. “In this play you’ll meet some fairly eccentric, enthusiastic hobbyists,” he says. “It’s every man or woman for himself. It’s adorable, because though none of them want to be interrupted, they are truly fond of each other.”
Shell says the play, which is set in 1937, puts its characters in the throes of the Depression. “The world is chaotic and scary, but each character carries on.”
Shells says he directs about 19 local actors starring in the play. “I haven’t done a ton of local theater — I work a lot with college students,” he says. “This is a lot of fun for me because people are volunteering their time, so they’re doing it out of love.”
Shell says Franklin County seems to have a lot of experienced actors who leave their “real jobs” every now and then to entertain their neighbors. “There’s a great enthusiasm and sincerity to the whole experience,” he says.
Walsh and Shell say there are many level of actors in community theater and that’s what makes it so genuine.
“Some have never been on stage, while some are remarkable,” says Shell. “As a director, you have to find a way to get them all into the same world. We’re all working toward a common goal.”
He says his work is more technical. “I have to make sure all of the actors know their lines and how to say them, where to stand, how to put it all together.”
Shell says working community theater is different than what he’s used to, because he has a much shorter amount of time to put everything together. “These are volunteers who have other lives,” he says. “We start rehearsing a play just a couple of months before it’s performed before an audience.”
He is a stickler for actors saying their lines precisely the way a playwright intended. “If an actor can get that right, it means the world,” he says. “Playwrights put a lot into their work and their word choices.”
Walsh says sometimes it just doesn’t happen. “You never know what you’re going to get when you get on stage,” says Walsh. “Sometimes you’re left to improvise because an actor forgets his or her lines. It has happened to me before ... you just have to try and make it work.”
Walsh says sometimes the audience picks up on it and sometimes it doesn’t. “I think it adds a little excitement to the entire experience,” she says.
The nonprofit Ashfield Community Theater is dedicated to providing performance opportunities for adults and children and offers a summer program each year to do just that.
“You Can’t Take It With You” will be performed in Ashfield Town Hall, 344 Main St., Ashfield, on Friday and Saturday and again on June 6 and 7, all at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $6 on opening night and $12 all other nights.
For more information, call 413-628-4574 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit: www.acth.org.
Staff reporter Anita Fritz worked at The Recorder from 2002 to 2005 and then returned in 2006. She covers Greenfield and can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.
Staff photographer Micky Bedell started at The Recorder in 2014. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 273.