Election years often bring out what divides us rather than what brings us together. And while we can choose our candidates through the ballot box, we can’t choose our families; their quirks, faults and blessings are generally for life.
The eccentricities of family fill up the stage in the Clayton Youth Theater’s winter production, “You Can’t Take It With You.” The play will premier Thursday, Feb. 25, and continue Feb. 26 and 27, with all performances at 7:30 p.m. at The Clayton Center, 111 E. Second St., Clayton.
CYT director Nikki Dyke said the 8-year-old theater company typically performs a summer musical and winter play. She chose the large ensemble of “You Can’t Take It With You” because she wanted to present a fun challenge to her students and offer roles to as many people as possible.
“This is a classic piece, which I found appealing; we had done some more-modern plays over the past couple years,” Dyke said. “There is a large cast, which is somewhat unusual for a straight play, but I want to get as many students on stage as I can.”
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The cast is so large because the Sycamore family is so large. Grandpa Sycamore (Charlie Putnam) has laid the foundation for a family marching to its own drum. The clan has fireworks makers, playwrights, ballerinas and musicians among the branches of the family tree. The family knows no other way but its own, until the closest-to-normal daughter, Alice (Lexi Yauch), falls in love with her boss’ son.
CYT veteran Putnam serves as the center around which the chaos revolves in his role as Grandpa. High school seniors might have little to draw on to play a convincing geriatric, but Putnam has done his research.
“I know this may be creepy, but you just watch people,” Putnam said. “Bernie Sanders has been a great inspiration to me.”
Elsewhere, Alice’s mother Penny (Katie Distefano) writes plays in the house where then entire Sycamore family lives.
“It’s a zany, crazy family,” Distefano said.
Penny’s husband Paul (Markeese King) keeps a basement full of fireworks supplies, which the actor King could tap into.
“Paul is all about fireworks; my uncle is all about fireworks,” King said. “I just think about my uncle when I’m paying Paul. He’s in his own world.”
Dyke picked “You Can’t Take It With You” last fall and held auditions near the end of November. The cast of more than a dozen started rehearsals after the new year.
Students in grades 7-12 take part in the CYT, which Dyke said draws largely from Clayton and elsewhere in Johnston County, but has attracted students from Holly Springs and Zebulon. Some pursue a life on the stage, while others just enjoy the theater.
“The theater can prepare students to lead a business meeting or give them the confidence to speak in front of a crowd,” Dyke said.
For Putnam, in what will be his last winter play, it’s not easy moving on.
“I know it’s a cliche, but this is like a second home,” he said.
For more performance information, or to purchase tickets, call 919-553-1737 or visit claytonyouththeater.org.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdjackson