Skip to main content Skip to footer site map


Comedy and catharsis at UD Rep Ensemble.


UD Rep Ensemble by and large stages classics: Shakespeare, Moliere, Bernard Shaw, Tennessee Williams, etc. Plays become classics due to their timeless quality and universal truths; truths that lived, for example, in Shakespeare's time as they do today. The immediacy of live theatre brings these tenets to life before our eyes.

You might not think that a comedy written in 1936 would have direct parallels to the twitter barrage confronting the world each day.

To understate, there is a lot going on in this unit set living room; a surfeit of hullabaloo.

The Sycamores are a wacky family. Mother Penny (Elizabeth Heflin) starts projects in writing ("someone dropped off a typewriter by mistake") and fine art, never finishing anything. (It is just as well, for she is terrible in both genres).

Father Paul (Stephen Pelinski) likes to tinker with dynamite in the basement (Of course. Who doesn't? Why not?). His assistant is Mr. De Pinna (Lee E. Ernst), a former iceman that the family has adopted. Why he has transitioned from iceman to amateur dynamite maker to Grecian discus model to family member, we are not sure, but it does fit the Sycamores' mo.

Sister Essie (Erin Partin) dreams of being a ballet dancer and flickers and flutters about in her tutu. Essie's intrinsic artistic talents parallel her mother's. Essie's husband Ed (Lenny Banovez) is a multi-tasker; xylophone player and printing press operator.

Finally, there is grandfather Martin Vanderhof (James Black) who quit his job 35 years ago because he was not having fun. He keeps pet snakes. Grandpa had not paid taxes for these 35 years. An IRS agent bursts into the home demanding the dollars. Vanderhof, effecting a homespun drawl that sounded remarkedly like Grandpa Will Geer in THE WALTONS is nonplussed, ..."they wouldn't know what to do with it if I gave it to them". The agent espies the snakes, screams and bolts for the door.

Add to this Essie's ballet teacher, Boris Kohlnkhov (John Tyson), who is exponentially more overheated about the fall of his Czarist Russia 20 years past than Essie's instruction. Poor Boris has a problem about everything. "Everything stinks"! The family accepts each declaration, repeated ofttimes.

The audience now understands this is quite an agglomeration of eccentrics. Oh, I forgot Gay Wellington (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) a stage artist who was invited over to read a part in Penny's non-sequitur play. Gay's problem is that she came with a gin bottle half empty and has a little 'problem' with the lines. She explains to Penny, "the bottle gets put away until intermission...burp". (Tague returns in Act II as Olga, cousin to the Romanov Grand Duchesses. Sadly, Olga has been reduced from the St. Petersburg Palace to a lowly waitress at a local restaurant). Tague and Tyson have spot on accents and are masters at 'takes'.

UD Rep Ensemble Players do comedy exceedingly well.

Designer Hugh Landwehr's set is as busy, kooky and idiosyncratic as the Sycamores. He must have visited every Goodwill in 3 states.

Costume Designer Judith Dolan. Wow...all so very period. So much fun. So reminiscent. I can only imagine the reaction when Pirkl first saw her Olga dress. The first thought I had as Olga entered, 'oh my, how does this woman sit down'? Dolan, a Tony Award winner from Brdway's CANDIDE (my all-time favorite Brdway overture). She worked with Hal Prince? OMG.

Peruse the program book's Technical/Creative credits: Danae Iris McQueen, Asst. Costume Design; Kevin Rigdon, Light Design; Rob Miburn and Michael Bodeen, Sound Design. Along with the aforementioned Landwehr and Dolan, these creatives are heavyweights in their fields with major Brdway credits. One wonders how Sandy Robbins persuades them on a ticket price of $26.00? Excellence of production? Yes! We are seeing Brdway quality shows. We should all be buying season tickets.


Why is Aisle Say going through all these characters and plot? Because in Act II, when Grandpa is confronting the rich and condescending Mr. Kirby (John Rensenhouse), the real message of the show begins.

Tony Kirby (Michael Gotch) loves Alice (Sara Griffin) the only 'normal' Sycamore. The Kirby's are against it; the Sycamores being way too odd for their tastes and 'status'. Mr. Kirby (John Rensenhouse) orders his son to leave. Tony confronts his Father about his Dad's aspirations when he was a young man, "You wanted to be a trapeze artist"! Grandpa mines deeper. He asks Mr. Kirby, ..,"does he like his life"? "Why does he have ulcers'? "You know, Mr. Kirby, you can't take it with you".

During that interchange, I cried. I literally cried. The parallels are as evident as Trump's lack of self-esteem. I cried for our country for what Trump has done to divide us. This is not just a comedy about a kooky family vs. the self-entitled upper crust. As Sandy Robbins wrote in his notes, 'the Sycamore family philosophy serves as "a source of hope and vigor as we deal with the harsh realities of the moment". This is Robbins' 3rd time directing this show. He knows the message. Most probably he chose the show because of what it says.

The crying was a catharsis...if only for two hours. Was Trump ever loved as a child? I'm serious. Did his father ever give him approval?

The most sadistically ironic moment came this past weekend. The racist Trump is fiddling at his golf resort, then seen presenting 'The President's Cup' to privileged golfers, all the while US citizens are sweltering and dying in Puerto Rico.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man most responsible for changing Brdway in the past decade - and a native of Puerto Rico - tweeted "Trump will go straight to hell...on his golf cart".

The true catharsis for America will come when Trump either resigns or is forced from office...weekly scandals, obstruction of justice, racist, misogynist, narcissist, incapable of empathy.

I saw the Sycamore family, however batty they be, were bonded by their love for one another. Even Alice - who acknowledged the family's craziness - loved them with all her heart.

We need live theatre to continue to tell us these universal truths of honor, virtue, love and family to get us through the nightmare of Trump. UD Rep Ensemble's wonderful actors and crew give us hope. We need to support them and all live theatre.

Through Oct 8 302.831.2204


Previews: ANASTASIA at The Playhouse Photo
Wilmington resident and theatre veteran Gerri Weagraff comes to The Playhouse as the Dowager Empress in the national tour of ANASTASIA. Six performances from February 9 – 12. Music and lyrics are by the award-winning team of Flaherty and Ahrens (RAGTIME, SUESSICAL THE MUSICAL and ONCE ON THIS ISLAND) with a book written by Broadway legend Terrance McNally.

Winners Announced For The 2022 BroadwayWorld Delaware Awards Photo
The winners have been announced for the 2022 BroadwayWorld Delaware Awards, honoring the best in regional productions, touring shows, and more which had their first performance between October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022.

227 RENT and Possum Point Players Present WAIT UNTIL DARK Beginning This Week Photo
In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Possum Point Players, the community theater group is bringing back a season of favorites from their five decades of live theater in Sussex County.

National Tour Of ANASTASIA Makes Wilmington Premiere in February Photo
Inspired by the beloved film, the romantic and adventure-filled new musical ANASTASIA is on a journey to Wilmington at last! The national tour of ANASTASIA comes to the historic Playhouse on Rodney Square on February 9th through February 12th.

From This Author - Greer Firestone

Greer Firestone has been reviewing professional theatre for 35 years. As a playwright he wrote and produced JUDY GARLAND "Wor... (read more about this author)

Previews: ANASTASIA at The PlayhousePreviews: ANASTASIA at The Playhouse
February 1, 2023

Wilmington resident and theatre veteran Gerri Weagraff comes to The Playhouse as the Dowager Empress in the national tour of ANASTASIA. Six performances from February 9 – 12. Music and lyrics are by the award-winning team of Flaherty and Ahrens (RAGTIME, SUESSICAL THE MUSICAL and ONCE ON THIS ISLAND) with a book written by Broadway legend Terrance McNally.

Review: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS at Candlelight Music TheatreReview: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS at Candlelight Music Theatre
November 28, 2022

After a stellar run of showstoppers and extraordinary, electric entertainment in 2022, Candlelight returns to the seasonal theme of sentimental and saccharine with Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS The Musical. Sentimentality and nostalgia are good. And, the venue is to be applauded for staging this show. It’s good box office. IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMA at Candlelight Music Theatre.

Previews: HAIRSPRAY at The PlayhousePreviews: HAIRSPRAY at The Playhouse
November 21, 2022

When it opened on Broadway in 2002, HAIRSPRAY won an extraordinary eight Tony awards. Its popularity has never waned and the tour will visit The Playhouse on December 1-4.

Review: MEMPHIS at Candlelight Music TheatreReview: MEMPHIS at Candlelight Music Theatre
October 9, 2022

What did our critic think oHockadoo! MEMPHIS, The Musical, running at Candlelight through October 30, is a compelling show in many respects. Memphis is the story of Huey Calhoun (loosely based on real-life 1950s disc jockey Dewey Phillips) and his mission to bring blues and soul music to a white southern audience in a VERY segregated Memphis. Huey optimistically believes that music can transcend race, and with him on his journey is aspiring singer Felicia Farrell. The two fall in love, but must contend with social barriers, a prejudiced mother, and an overprotective brother. f MEMPHIS at Candlelight Music Theatre?

Interview: Payton Reilly from TOOTSIE at The PlayhouseInterview: Payton Reilly from TOOTSIE at The Playhouse
October 2, 2022

It was with some trepidation that I began my interview with Payton Reilly, star of TOOTSIE, the musical set to begin a 3 day run at The Playhouse on October 6. One of Payton’s acting credits was an off Broadway production of WILD WOMEN OF PLANET WONGO. How does one prepare for this? Is there a language of wongoise?