Sunday, August 31, 2014

You Can’t Take It With You Stomps its way into our heart

A bigger-than-life comedy

Posted by Maria Martin on Sun, Aug 31, 2014 at 2:08 PM

You Can’t Take It With You, written by Moss Hart and George Kaufman, takes place in the eccentric Sycamore family’s 1920’s home. Grandpa (George Younts) — the head of the household — quit his high-paying job 35 years ago without a second thought, and hasn’t payed income tax since the law was enacted. In keeping with his free spirit, he's encouraged his family to be whatever they want, without thinking about an income. In the Sycamore family that means eating cornflakes for every meal and having a lot of hobbies.

You Can’t Take It With You is the type of screwball comedy that always has a lot happening on stage, and in this play, a lot of the action stems from the Sycamore family’s myriad pursuits. Grandpa keeps snakes. Daughter Penny Sycamore (Marybeth Clark) writes plays — but only because a typewriter was sent in the mail to her house by mistake. Her husband, Paul Sycamore (Chris O’Leary), makes fireworks in the basement with his partner Mr. DePinna (Brian Porter), their former milkman, who came to the Sycamore’s house eight years earlier on his mail route and never left. Their eldest daughter Essie Sycamore Carmichael (Katie Bianchi) believes that she is training to be a prima ballerina though she is in her 30s and has no talent. Her husband, Ed Carmichael (Ryan Pixlar), is a jack of all hobbies and a master of none, dividing his day between practicing his very basic skills at the xylophone, printmaking, and creating masks. And there's  Alice Sycamore (Jocelyn Lonquist) — the “normal” daughter. Alice holds a job in town and is about to become engaged to the Vice President of her company, Tony Kirby (Corbin Williams). Though she loves her family and appreciates their enthusiasm for life, she is aware of how improper they would seem to an outsider, especially a well-to-do family like the Kirbys. Things come to a head when upon her engagement finds she must invite his wealthy and traditional parents to dinner so that the two families can meet. Alice is optimistic, and carefully plans a normal dinner. But wouldn’t you know it? The Kirby’s come on the wrong night.

And while the classic plot twist serves up plenty of laughs, some of the performances come off as caricature. George, the patriarch of the family is the voice of wisdom and dignity. But most of the family members each has a physical quirk, something about them like a strange voice or walk. The impact of which was that at times it felt as if each performer were shouting "I’m unusual!" from the stage. Penny (Clark) squinted as she pecked at her typewriter with two fingers, and spoke loudly and without a filter to guests. Essie (Bianchi) was played with a wide-eyed hey-whats-so-funny? lack of awareness as she clapped her feet down to the stage in her pathetic attempts at dancing, which got a lot of laughs. Ed (Pixlar) attended to his hobbies with concentration and devotion and spoke with a voice and mannerisms that seemed to say, “Hey! I’m a character!”. In her role as Alice, Jocelyn Lonquist was strong, and worked the tension between loving her own family but wishing that they could pursue their happiness without impinging on her own.

The standout performer of the night was John Michael Chappell in his role as Mr. Boris Kolenkhov, Essie’s Russian ballet instructor. He was able to have both a commanding and funny presence on stage while not detracting from the action. Though playing a comedic role, Chappell performed unselfconsciously: you were not aware of him trying to get laughs; he just did.

Director Julian Wiles writes in his director’s notes that the secret to the longevity of the You Can’t Take It With You is that “[i]t’s not built on slapstick or even on traditional one liners. Instead, it celebrates the follies and foibles of a typical family ... those other families, those really wild and eccentric folks that live just down the block.” This was particularly striking to me because while I think that that would have been an interesting possibility for this play, this particular production didn't fit that description. It is a slapstick production. The laughs actually do come primarily from things like Essie’s dancing, or the chaos on stage, than from the foibles of the family. The play was fun, and the audience enjoyed it, but it lacked the subtlety that Wiles describes in his notes.

All the same, there was a full house and the play held the audience’s attention throughout. If you like loud, bigger-than-life comedies, then you will enjoy this production of You Can’t Take It With You

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