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Local theater troupe's actors draw lessons from the Pulitzer-winning play.

COURTESY: BEAVERTON CIVIC THEATRE - Nicole Rayner and Benjamin Philip, center, star in Beaverton Civic Theatre's production of 'You Can't Take It With You.'Until taking on one of the leading roles in Beaverton Civic Theatre's upcoming production of "You Can't Take It With You," Nicole Rayner had mostly performed in musical theater roles. But when she read the part of Alice Sycamore, she knew it was time to tackle a non-musical role.

"You don't normally audition for shows unless you can really see yourself in one of the roles," Rayner said. "For me, I thought this could be a good way to transition to more straight plays because Alice is a really relatable character."

Alice Sycamore is considered the most normal member of the Sycamore family in "You Can't Take It With You," which was written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart and received the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for best drama. Her mother is an untalented but passionate playwright and painter; her father is an amateur firework maker; her sister is a candy maker with pipe dreams of being a ballerina; her grandfather is a lifelong tax evader — the list goes on, with each Sycamore family member the master of their own eccentricity.

Alice's fiancé Tony Kirby, meanwhile, comes from a buttoned-up, conservative family that owns a prominent business. Coming from two different worlds, Alice and Tony try to bridge the gap and introduce their two families to each other. And so begins the setup for a timeless comedic drama.

"It's definitely one of those classic scripts from the '20s and '30s that is kind of timeless," said Benjamin Philip, who plays Tony. "The eccentric family, the star-crossed lovers, the wise grandpa. There's a lot to love, and there's a lot of charm in it."

Philip, who also performed in Beaverton Civic Theatre's holiday production last year, said the clashing of two worldviews was what drew him into the play, and into the role of Tony.

"It's about being in a new surrounding that challenges your worldview," he said. "It's not a real heavy play, but it does hint that maybe (Tony) had a stuffy upbringing. He's anxious to see what else is out there in the world. And through meeting this young woman, it gives him a chance at something that is very different."

Although Rayner was excited to take on the role of Alice, she admits that stepping outside of the musical theater world and into a straight play was a little unnerving.

"When you do musical theater, there's an extra layer that really helps you tell the story," she said. "Music can help add so much emotion and drama to things. So now it's more of a challenge, and it's a little more on you to show the audience these things."

But Rayner was up to the challenge — especially because, for her, "You Can't Take It With You" has a message that extends far beyond the 1930s.

"It's a really great way to see wildly different people coming together and getting along, and I think that's a refreshing message in today's world," she said.

Her co-star Philip echoed that sentiment.

"In this particular play, the characters all eventually open themselves up to be challenged, and perhaps see that the views they're set in — that there's more outside that," he said.

The message in the show's title also resonates with Philip. It comes from a line in which Martin Vanderhof, Alice's grandfather who is mostly referred to as "Grandpa" in the play, is speaking with Tony's straight-laced father, Anthony W. Kirby.

"He's saying, all this money, all this work that you've done, you can't take it with you," he said. "I've had all these years to enjoy myself and enjoy my life."

"It's a nice breath of fresh air," Philip went on to add, "to see something put so simply and succinctly."

Blair Stenvick
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