You think your family’s crazy? Compared to the purposefully pixilated Sycamore-Vanderhof clan — the characters, and I mean characters, populating George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s exuberant comedy You Can’t Take It With You — your relatives probably err on the side of prosaic. You get to hang out with these eccentric lovelies for nearly three, fast-moving hours in Everyman Theatre’s rosy and ebullient staging of the 1936 chestnut.
Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (Stan Weiman, fluffing numerous lines) hasn’t worked in 35 years — or paid income tax— and spends his days crashing college commencements. Essie (a manically nimble Megan Anderson) is an aspiring ballerina perpetually clad in a cotton candy-colored tutu when she’s not minding her candy-making business. Her husband, Ed (Clinton Brandhagen, exuding “gee willikers” bonhomie) tucks hand-printed pearls of wisdom from Trotsky into the candy boxes.
Parents Penelope (Caitlin O’Connell, delightfully dotty and generous) and Paul (Tom Weyburn, a portrait of paternal patience and boyish enthusiasm) are equally devoted to their hobbies — she’s been writing (unfinished) plays for eight years, since the day a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to the house; and he and his compadre Mr. De Pinna (a scene-stealing Wil Love), the ice man who stayeth for years, are determined to build a better firecracker.
Swirling around all this warm-hearted mayhem are Rheba (Chinai Hardy, radiant as a tolerant housekeeper), her fella Donald (Jon Hudson Odom, as zany as the people he waits on, especially in a scene where he offhandedly strolls out of the kitchen dressed only in his boxer shorts and toting an accordion), and the floridly theatrical Russian dance teacher, Boris Kolenkhov (Bruce Randolph Nelson, who seems to be channeling both Pushkin and Danny Kaye in his hilariously physical portrayal).
The only person reasonably sane is daughter Alice (Brianna Letourneau, sweet and determined, like a younger version of Rosalind Russell), a secretary to a Wall Street muckety-muck Mr. Kirby (Carl Schurr, playing him as a stuffed shirt with a soft side). But she’s loopy in love with the boss’s son Tony(a dreamboaty Matthew Schleigh) and vice-versa.
These two crazy kids have an idea — both families should meet. Mr. Kirby and his society doyenne wife (Deborah Hazlett, queen of the icy slow burn) walk into the Sycamore house and the kookiness is in full swing—Essie’s leaping across the floor like a perky refugee from Swan Lake, Penny is putting finishing touches on a neglected painting of Mr. De Pinna as a discus thrower, Paul’s testing a new bottle rocket and Grandpa is doting over his collection of snakes.
Needless to say, the Kirbys are not charmed, especially when Kolenkhov tackles Mr. Kirby in an impromptu wrestling demonstration. Yet, by the end of this well-made play, even stiff old Mr. Kirby has become a convert to Grandpa’s philosophy that you “shouldn’t do anything that you’re not going to enjoy doing.” Of course, his change of heart could also be due to the sway of Olga (a divinely grand Kimberly Schraf), former grand duchess of Russia now waitress at Child’s, who drops by for dinner and winds up making a mountain of blinis without messing up her tiara.
Director Vincent M. Lancasi keeps the loving madness rolling along at a thoroughbred clip, never laying it on too thick with the unconventionalities of the Sycamores. The humor arises almost casually and conversationally, as if every family eats corn flakes for dinner every night and it is de rigueur to bound down the stairs and noodle on the xylophone the way Ed does time after time. The cast keeps up a sprightly, anything-can-happen pace without leaning heavily on Kaufman and Hart’s crisp dialogue.
It may be escapist fluff, but what delectable fluff it is, from the on-point performances and wonderfully peculiar costumes by David Burdick to scenic designer Daniel Ettinger’s multi-roomed set that renders the Sycamore home an over-stuffed and happily chock-a-block tribute to their far-flung hobbies and passions.
When you get right down to it, the Sycamores embody the values of our Founding Fathers. Instead of being ruthless capitalists worshipping the almighty dollar and stepping on everyone to get ahead, they spend their days engaged in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
You Can’t Take It With You is onstage thru June 17, 2012 at Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, Md.
Details and tickets
You Can’t Take It With You
By George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi
Produced by Everyman Theatre
Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions