“You Can’t Take it With You” — The nuances in comedic acting

The actors enter the theatre and gasp.

Enormous, pistachio green walls divide up the stage, accented by yellow railings and a pink sofa, a result of set designer and Ryerson professor Pavlo Bosyy’s months of hard work.

It’s meant to look like a 1930s parlour for the almost entirely student-run production of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You, a comedy about two very different families learning to love one another. Opening on Feb. 5, it’s the final ensemble production for Ryerson’s fourth-year theatre students.

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Rehearsal begins and everyone snaps into place. The looks of astonishment that were lingering on their faces dissolve and are replaced with anger.

“I wish I lived in a family that didn’t always forget everything!” screams an actress, hurling a dart onto the ground and stomping off the stage.

Guest director Blair Williams stops the scene and calls out directions. They run it again, at least three more times, the actress’ emotions feeling more genuine with every take.

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This emotional honesty is one of the bigger challenges of putting on a comedic play, says Hannah Galway, who plays a ballerina named Essie. “One thing that Blair has been adamant about is that these are real people. Although they’re quirky, they’re not caricatures; they’re real people with real emotions and real hobbies.”

Williams agrees, saying, “This is a comedy but it’s not a farce. The comedy rests in the honesty and the truth of the characters.”

However, for a class who has mostly put on tragedies this year, they are relieved at the lightness of the material.

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“When we’re doing something really heavy, like in our second-year tragedy project, some of us had to go to such an awful emotional place night after night,” says Nick Uffen, who plays Tony. “It’s nice to not have that burden.”

For the students, it’s somewhat fitting that their last major production is a happier one.

“The play asks whether or not it’s better to be the American dream or to be happy; this is our last year before going into the real world. It asks these questions that we’re all sort of facing right now,” says Laura Hayes, who plays Penny.

The show will be running from Feb. 5 to 11.

Images by Amanda Skrabucha