CHAMPAIGN — Through his long career in community theater, Nick Schneider has appeared three times already in the American classic "You Can't Take It with You" by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.
He played Mr. Kirby once and Paul Sycamore twice. In the Parkland College Theatre production opening Thursday night (Feb. 21), Schneider plays the eccentric pater familias: Grandpa Sycamore.
"I've finally grown into myself," said Schneider, who sees parallels between his own life and that of the grandfather, who quit his business job decades before the action of the play because he wasn't happy in it.
Decades ago, Schneider left a national TV advertising job he disliked. He moved to his family farm in Indiana and shoveled manure for a short time at a neighbor's dairy barn before eventually returning to school and finding work that satisfied him.
A self-described classicist, Schneider loves "You Can't Take It with You" because it has all the elements of a good play: comedy, a message and a number of variable characters, he said.
"It's fun to do. It's fun to watch," he said. "And you get the message, the message Grandpa gives Mr. Kirby: If you're not happy doing what you're doing then why are you doing it?"
Playing Grandpa's son, Paul Sycamore, is Kerry Bean, a pastor at the Presbyterian Church in Tolono and a part-time Parkland faculty member. Like Schneider, he sees the play as relevant, saying it has a contemporary feel.
Bean calls his role challenging, too, because Paul is on stage during nearly the entire play but has "only little pockets of lines.
"He supports the other characters in quiet little ways," Bean said. "It's a challenge to rely not on your lines but on your voice and presence."
Jesse Debolt, a 19-year-old Parkland theater major who plays Essie Sycamore, an erstwhile ballerina, also thinks the comedy has things to say for the current era.
She was familiar with it before landing the role of Essie; as a Mahomet-Seymour High School freshman, she watched the play several times when that school produced it.
"Essie was always my favorite character," said Debolt, who played Shelby in Parkland's recent production of "Steel Magnolias."
"I'm a little flighty, like her. Mainly I like her because she's different than what I've played before. I'm often the down-to-earth, smarter character. And I like to learn ballet, too."
Set in New York City in the late 1930s — the Pulitzer Prize-winning play opened in 1937 on Broadway — "You Can't Take It with You" tells of the Kirbys, a family of conservatives, that clashes with the Sycamores, an eccentric family of free spirits.
Joi Hoffsommer, who is directing, says the play ultimately is about love: love of family and friends, as well as romantic love.
"And when we thought about it, it's about loving yourself enough to do what you love," said Hoffsommer, Parkland's theater program artistic director.
She changed two lines in the play to reflect the race of the actors playing two roles and reduced the number of acts from three to two to shorten the production, making the play more appealing to contemporary audiences.
She estimates the family comedy will clock in at just under 2 hours.
Besides Schneider, Debolt and Bean, other cast members are Mary Rose Cottingham, Jamey Coutant, Marissa Embry, Mitchell Flanagin, Chris Guyotte, David Heckman, Robert Humphrey, Monty Joyce, Justin Klett, Hannah Kline, Lincoln Machula, Nic Morse, Chad Myler, Diane Pritchard, Kenna Mae Reiss and David Weisiger.
If you go
What: Parkland College Theatre presents "You Can't Take It with You" by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, directed by Joi Hoffsommer
When: 7:30 p.m. today, Friday, Saturday, Feb. 28-March 2; 3 p.m. March 3
Where: Parkland Theatre, 2400 W. Bradley Ave., C
Tickets: $14 for adults; $12 for students and senior citizens 55 and older; $8 for youths 12 and younger; $10 each for those in groups of 15 or more (tonight is "pay what you can night;" March 1 features half-price tickets)
Reservations: http://www.parkland.edu/theatre ; 351-2528