Throughout the school year, Fairfax Extra publishes occasional reviews of high school shows written by student critics under the guidance of faculty mentors as part of the Critics and Awards Program, also known as Cappies. Now in its seventh season, the program recognizes the achievements of young performers, writers, directors and stage crews. For information online, visit

Although the title says "you can't take it with you," the audience of South County Secondary School's production of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's popular comedy walked out of the school's auditorium with smiles and uplifted spirits. The beloved play about two families joined by lovers was skillfully staged by South County's talented and energetic cast and crew. "You Can't Take It With You" was the first play by the county's newest high school, which opened in September.

The story follows the romance of Alice Sycamore (played by Elizabeth Ensminger) and Tony Kirby (Justin Alderson) as they bring their families together one night for dinner. Hilarity ensues. Tony's family is the image of American success: His father is the president of a Wall Street firm, and his mother believes in the very fashionable spiritualism. Alice's family is the embodiment of eccentricity: Her grandfather enjoys hunting for snakes and attending college commencements, her father makes fireworks and her mother is a playwright who has never been published.

As Alice's mother, Penelope, Molly Dickerson demonstrated impeccable timing and realistically portrayed the age of her character. Ray Yankey's Grandpa Vanderhof was funny and wise. His monologue at the end of the third act was a joy to watch.

Other standouts included Ricky Shah as Paul Sycamore and Johnee' Wilson as the drunken Gay Wellington, whose physical antics and great timing were comic highlights of the evening. Scott Rumberger's lighting was effective, especially at the end of the second act when he created the effect of fireworks. Drew Jenkinson's sound design did everything it should: The actors were always heard and the sound effects always on cue.

The energy and comedy of South County's production provided for a wonderful night of theater. They skillfully reminded us that in order to truly enjoy life, one has to sit back, relax and let the play begin.

Barry Ambruster

Westfield High School

Fireworks, loud music, explosions, dancing and raucous laughter may sound like the average Fourth of July celebration. At South County Secondary School, it was the not-so-average scene of hilarious bedlam in a production of "You Can't Take It With You."

The 1936 play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman tells the comical and charming story of the eccentric Sycamore family and their daughter Alice's would-be engagement to a well-to-do gentleman, Tony Kirby. Alice, embarrassed by her enthused "playwright" mother, Penelope, and her firework-inventing father, is reluctant to invite Tony's Wall Street father and straight-laced mother to meet her family. After a haphazard dinner, an FBI raid and the addition of other zany members of the household, the engagement is surely off.

Molly Dickerson portrayed the mother with excellent comedic timing and a solid sense of her character. Along with Ray Yankey as Grandpa Vanderhof, she skillfully carried a number of scenes and gave life to the show. Yankey's commitment to his character's age was evident in his slow walk and motions, exceptional voice inflection and command of the stage. Johnee' Wilson played a drunken actress with great conviction. The cast as a whole displayed tremendous energy and projection, despite a few underdeveloped performances.

The crew and technical elements were key to the show. The sound, by Drew Jenkinson, was used especially well in the fireworks explosions. Lights, directed by Scott Rumberger, added a dramatic element by creating a comical silhouetted scene of complete mayhem during an explosion in the Sycamores' living room.

In the closing scene, Grandpa adeptly pointed out to all parties involved the key to happiness and the fading nature of material things. After all, as he says, "You can't take it with you."

Meghan Bartnick

The Seton School

Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters" would be a daunting task for any theater company, let alone a high school's. For the Madeira School of McLean, it was an even greater challenge because the play was performed with an all-girl cast. The 1901 script, hailed by critics as one of the best dramas of the 20th century, is intricate and full of many layers, yet Madeira put on an admirable performance.

In a family of four, you might think that at least one would be lucky in love. That is not the case in "Three Sisters." The Prozorov sisters -- Olga, Masha and Irina -- live with their brother Andrei in a provincial Russian town, surviving by dreams of living in Moscow. Andrei marries Natasha, an authoritarian monster; Masha finds happiness only in a short love affair with Col. Vershinin; and Irina agrees to marry Baron Tuzenbach, who dies soon afterward in a duel. "Three Sisters" ends much the same as it began, with the Prozorov family wishing for a better life.

Masha, played by Caitlyn Gart in a strong performance, captured both the elation and despair in Masha's life. Gart put on a believable presentation of Masha's character, with her random fits and temperamental disposition. In Part 2 of the play, the acting of the three sisters came together in scenes of desolation, and they left the stage with a deeper relationship than they began with.

As the physician Chebutykin, Thavisay Keobounphanh enlivened the stage and restored the cast's energy. She was outstanding in her drunken monologue, laughing and crying until she passed out.

Alyssa Kuhn

West Potomac High School

Like an impressionist painting, "Three Sisters," recently performed at the Madeira School, combined various elements to subtly convey a broader message.

The story focuses on the three Prozorov sisters, Olga, Masha and Irina, living in a rural village in Russia. Their longing for excitement and the company of educated people causes them to place all of their hopes and dreams on the faraway destination of Moscow, where they believe their real lives will begin. The play chronicles the girls' relationships with each other as well as with men. Many tragic events unfold, but there is also comedy throughout the show, at which the actors shined.

Caitlyn Gart as Masha was a fully developed character, and her emotions came across as authentic. Irina (Sarah Glaser) had an innocent presence, her facial expressions skillfully conveying her youthfulness and inexperience. Stephanie Swift as Natasha, the girls' in-law, made an impressive change in character. Seen in Act 1 as awkward, shy and self-conscious, she appeared in Act 2 as a domineering force to be reckoned with.

Col. Vershinin (Anna Richardson) was convincing in her male role. She had an air of respectability, a convincing accent and mannerisms that were believable as those of a middle-aged man. The Army doctor Chebutykin (Thavisay Keobounphanh) displayed impeccable comic timing and hilarious stage antics, especially during a dancing scene at a holiday party.

"Three Sisters" is a difficult production for any cast, especially an all-female one. The show's formidable characters require depth and subtlety to be fully realized, and some of the characters were not fully developed. In some cases, the actresses did not appear to be in touch with their characters' purposes. Also, the cast's energy began to lag in the second half of the show. However, for the most part the cast kept the show moving and the energy high in the first half. Overall, the Madeira players put out a good effort, which the audience enjoyed.

Rue Khalsa

Paul VI Catholic High School

Mariah Kalil, foreground, dances as Essie Carmichael, while Justin Alderson and Elizabeth Ensminger, as Tony and Alice, talk in South County Secondary School's "You Can't Take It With You." Grandpa Vanderhof, played by Ray Yankey, right, is confronted by IRS Agent Henderson (Adam Scott) in "You Can't Take It With You." Cappies reviewers were particularly impressed by Yankey's performance. "You Can't Take It With You," the first play performed by the new South County Secondary School, showed masterful comedic touches as well as effective set, sound and lighting work.