Play to feature St. Ambrose alumni including diocesan priest


By Anne Marie Amacher

The cast of “You Can’t Take it with You,” from left: Kim Furness, Kris Eitrheim, Scott Naumann, Jamie Em Behnke, Corrine Johnson, Mike Kennedy, Joe Janz, Allison Costello-Swanson, Dan Rairdin-Hale and Father Thom Hennen. The production will be Sept. 7, 8 and 9. A portion of the proceeds benefits theatre majors at the university.

DAVENPORT — A play production featuring alumni from St. Ambrose University will be performed next month at the university to benefit its theatre program.
St. Ambrose alumni will perform Moss Hart and George Kaufman’s “You Can’t Take it with You” Sept. 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 9 at 3 p.m. in the Allaert Auditorium in Galvin Fine Arts Center on campus.
Corrine Johnson, the show’s producer, said this is the second reunion production featuring alumni. The first was “Death of a Salesman” in 2004.
The production of “You Can’t Take It With You” is a collaborative effort between St. Ambrose and Curtainbox Theatre Co.
“Mike Kennedy (professor emeritus) and I have been company members since 2008,” she said. Curtainbox Theatre’s artistic director and founder, Kim (Kurtenback) Furness, is an  Ambrose alumna.
Johnson said Curtain­box co-produces the production and helps with marketing and design and will receive 50 percent of box office proceeds. The other 50 percent goes directly to the Mike Kennedy Theatre Scholarship to benefit incoming theatre majors at St. Ambrose.
Johnson said she chose this play because it allows for a large cast with a variety of ages and character requirements. “It was a hit the last time we did it and has a wonderful message. This family-friendly script is a classic for a reason, and it is very, very funny,” Johnson said.
“The title really says it all.” The play depicts the clash between high society and the more colorful family in the household of Martin VonderHof (played by Kennedy). The concept of happiness having much more to do with friends and family rather than the amount of money one has is the bank suggests living life to the fullest because “You can’t take it with you.”
To cast roles, Johnson contacted alumni through a newsletter, posted a note on Facebook and sent a letter to local alumni who participated in plays in the past at St. Ambrose.
“Although not all the actors are local, quite a few will take a couple of weeks off work and relocate to the Quad-City area for two weeks of rehearsal and the play,” she said. “I had incredible response and wish I could have cast three times over. I only wish we could have had a role for everyone.”
She is unsure how many alumni contacted her, but estimated it could have been near 100.
There will be 27 on stage and about 20 backstage. Those include current students to graduates back to the class of 1960. The majority are from the Quad-City region, but the costume designer is coming in from New York and others are coming in from New York and Minnesota.
One alumnus who secured a role is Father Thom Hennen, director of vocations for the Diocese of Davenport and a 2000 graduate of St. Ambrose. As a university freshman, he portrayed Mr. DePinna, a role he will reprise in next month’s production.
Fr. Hennen said he had been asked to participate in the alumni production in 2004, but had to decline because of his parish work at the time.
“When Cory approa­ched me about this opportunity I thought, ‘I might actually be able to make this work,’ given that in my new position as vocations director I’m not as tied up with evening meetings as one might typically be in the parish and my weekends are little more flexible too,” Fr. Hennen said.
He also said this production is a wholesome, family-friendly show with a great message and “my part is pretty small.  So, it all added up to a yes for me.”
After talking with his spiritual director and Bishop Martin Amos, he took the part.
“Incidentally, I was known by the nickname DePinna for my whole time at Ambrose after the show.  In fact, there were some people that, not knowing where the name came from, actually thought that my last name was DePinna. Some of my college friends, including Cory, still call me DePinna.”
Fr. Hennen said he still had his old script, highlighted and with blocking (movement) notes in the margins, but really didn’t remember any of the lines.
Director Dave Bonde sent out scripts last fall for the alumni to begin learning their roles. They will get together the last two weeks of August to rehearse. “This is a typical rehearsal schedule for a professional play,” John­son said. “We are all to come to the first rehearsal (with scripts) memorized and then spend 10 days setting the staging and characterizations where the director wants them. It will be tight, but absolutely doable.”
Tickets for “You Can’t Take it with You” are $20 for adults, $18 for faculty, staff, alumni and senior citizens, $15 for non-St. Ambrose students and free for St. Ambrose students with a current, valid ID.
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