ON THE SCENE: Lake Placid Middle-High School presents fall play
November 9, 2018


There's nothing better on a rainy night than attending a play, particularly one presented by the Lake Placid Middle-High School Drama Club.

The young actors are known for their spirited performances, and this year they did not disappoint. Annie Smith, as family matriarch Penelope Sycamore, and Jameson Batt, as the rascally grandfather Vanderhof, led a strong cast with each participant getting into and embodying their roles. Kudos to director Brenden Gotham for his excellent casting choices and selecting a play that though from the 1930s still resonates today.

The 1936 Pulitzer-winning play, "You Can't Take It With You," provided roles for 18 students and all of them well defined. Even relatively brief parts, like the drunken girl played by Elise Pierson, were memorable and required commitment to be done well as she did. Several other brief standouts were Jillian Robinson as Mrs. Kirby, Astrid St. Pierre as the Grand Duchess Olga, along with Mr. LaValee as Henderson, the only adult slipped into the play.

Annie Smith anchored the play. She kept the madness in her household from spinning off the rails giving her daughter Alice's suitor Tony Kirby reason to keep hope alive. The lovely and very practical Alice, played by Ava Lopez, has fallen for and bewitched her company's vice president, young Tony Kirby, son of a very posh family performed by Anders Stanton. While Alice is a bit embarrassed by her clan, he is looking for some zest in his life and meeting Alice's family and their eccentric friends only convinces him that she (and they) are just right for him.

"I'm the mother of this crazy family that does everything that they love," said Annie Smith. "This is not my first play. I've been acting since the third grade. I love the work that you have to put into acting to put on a good performance. I like making people happy. I get a thrill when the audience reacts to different things; it makes me feel that I did a good job."

What do the Sycamores and Vanderhofs do? They keep pet snakes, build firecrackers and rockets in the basement, practice ballet, write bad plays, and do bad paintings of each other in the living room. They also refuse to pay their federal income taxes and have an assortment of passionate friends that engage in their antics and bring with them a passion equal to those in the family. Aiden Melling was a standout as Boris Kolenkhov, the fanatical ballet instructor.

"I've been in three school plays and several for Pendragon theatre and local CPT, about a dozen altogether," said Jameson Batt, who plays Grandpa Vanderhof, the grand overseer of the activities within the play. "I enjoy the experience of acting with and getting to know other people. Mostly I enjoy becoming a different person and making other people enjoy what I do so I can make them happy. On this show, I got solid on my lines about four days before opening. This play gave me the most lines I've ever had, which included a couple of monologues. That was rough."

There comes a time in any romance when those in love feel compelled to introduce their parents. Alice and her mom plan a feast, and all members of her family swear to be on their best behavior. Plans derailed when Tony's parents, well played by Cooper Holmes and Jillian Robinson, arrive a day early, a moment when Penelope decides to set pen aside and take up a brush and continue work on a painting of their former iceman (Maxwell Gole) who now assists her husband (Caleb Mihill) build bombs when not posing as a disc throwing toga-clad Geek Olympian.

"Alice introduces me to her crazy family. I then introduce my parents to her family, and then things then clash," said Anders Stanton, who has been acting since second grade and played Tony Kirby. "I love acting, making people happy, and putting on a good show."

Good show indeed. What goes wrong? What doesn't? The depot of gunpowder in the basement blows up; dinner burns; Boris pins Mr. Kirby to the floor, breaking his eyeglasses while he's at it; a get-to-know-you game reviews secrets some wished remained a secret; everyone gets arrested; and an embarrassed Alice breaks off the engagement and decides to leave town. The next day, Tony tries to save the relationship, aided by the unexpected arrival of his dad and the Grand Duchess Olga.

"I'm introduced by the Russian dance teacher," said Astrid St. Pierre, who plays the Grand Duchess. "I end up making dinner for the two families. I've been acting since I was four. I like the chance to become another person. In life, you can get stuck in the position of what people think of you, but on stage, you can create a new life."

The one-armed paper hanger and juggler of multiple tasks is the director Brenden Gotham, who also ran the lighting booth, sold tickets (a task he recruited a member of the audience to take over), help sell refreshments, ushered, and was planning to closing-night pizza party when not dispensing last minute tips to his actors. Somehow, he squeezes in time to teach grade 12 English. He said his biggest challenge is selecting the play.

"I love seeing the kids grow and inhabit the roles," said Gotham. "The reason I love theatre is the students can learn so much with the academic content. They're learning about history, economics, theater, and how to interact. Theater is undervalued at times. Kids don't act to become actors but to learn how to become public speakers, salespeople, and gain a sense of self-worth and self-confidence."

Parents agree. Sherry Robinson feels that through acting her daughter, Jillian, had the opportunity to interact with and get to know better people that she usually wouldn't be it adults or kids in other grades or classes. Jillian, who played Mrs. Kirby, agreed.

"I enjoy working with the other actors in Mr. Gotham's plays, it's fun," she said. "I like bonding with my peers and getting the acting experience."

"Annie's been acting a long time, probably since birth," said her grandmother, Sue Smith, attending with her son Favor, daughter-in-law Betsy, and partner Barry Ramsey. "We are very proud of the work she's done."

As is true of several other families, they not only cheered their children on, but they pitched in with both dad Favor and Barry Ramsey helping Annie practice her lines.

Some of the students like Astrid St. Pierre and Anders Stanton plan to pursue acting and ideally make it a career, while for many others it was a fun activity that they want to continue in some form or another. But on a rainy night in November the actors kept the lines and action coming, the audience was thoroughly engaged, and when the curtain closed (so to speak), they all received a well-deserved loud and sustained applause.


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