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Author: Becca Vaclavik

A tale of two families

A single cast performs both “Richard III” and “You Can’t Take It With You” this summer at CSF

It all started with an unusual idea Timothy Orr couldn’t shake years ago.

“I was walking to work one day and thinking the complete polar opposite of a play like ‘Richard III’ is a play like ‘You Can’t Take It With You: American. Contemporary. Screwball comedy. It’s a beloved piece of theatre that doesn’t get produced enough at the professional, regional level.

“And then I started to think about how they have almost the same casting breakdown in terms of the number of men, number of women, the ages, all of it … How weird! That would be really weird to see a cast do a bloody, bloody ‘Richard III’ and then the next night do ‘You Can’t Take It With You.”

Now Orr, the producing artistic director of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, finally has an opportunity to bring his plan to fruition. Beginning July 20, CSF will present Moss Hart and George Kaufman’s iconic “You Can’t Take It With You” at the University Theatre. (“Richard III opened last month and runs concurrently in the same space through Aug. 11.)

“You Can’t Take It With You” introduces the quirky Vanderhof-Sycamore-Carmichael clan by way of a young couple whose two very different families collide at a disastrous dinner. When Alice and Tony get engaged, Tony’s run-of-the-mill parents find themselves in the midst of a night to remember after they arrive for dinner with Alice’s family of outrageous free spirits on the wrong night—and fights, fireworks, and endless fun erupt. Literally.

It might be hard to find any similarities between this story and that of “Richard III,” a semi-historical retelling of the British king’s rise to the throne, presented in Shakespeare’s tale as a tyrannical murderer. But the parallels are there, if audiences know where to look.

“’Richard III’ and ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ really are in conversation with one another,” says Scenic Designer Caitlin Ayer. “Both plays, at their cores, really center around the corrosive effects of blind ambition and the bolstering power of love on familial relationships.”

Not surprisingly, the main characters of these plays take strikingly different stances on those themes and on how they explore what it means to get the most out of life. For all of “Richard III’s somber, cautionary lessons, “You Can’t Take It With You” provides a buoyant, laugh-out-loud anecdote audiences can revel in.

“At a time when nearly every morning there’s news of incivility and strife, I find [the Vanderhof family’s] care of one another a great reminder of how I’d like to live my own life—with humor and with kindness,” says Director Carolyn Howarth.

For the cast, it’s a rare opportunity to tackle emotionally juxtaposed bucket list roles at the same time. Sam Gregory—who “puts his inimitable stamp on the role of the Lord Hastings” (Westword) in “Richard III”—leads in “You Can’t Take It With You” as family patriarch Martin Vanderhof; and Leslie O’Carroll, “majestically terrifying” (Play Shakespeare) as the Duchess of York, stars as Vanderhof’s daughter, Penelope “Penny” Sycamore.

Making their CSF debuts this summer are Lindsay Ryan and Christian Ray, who play the engaged young couple—Alice Sycamore and Tony Kirby—at the center of the play.

It’s the perfect production to cap off the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s summer of love and ambition under the stars, and with only 11 performances, fans should book their tickets now. For audiences looking for the complete experience of seeing the two family plays side by side, most festival weekends offer performances of both productions over the course of two days.

“You Can’t Take It With You” runs through Aug. 12. Tickets start at $20.