|Kristine Nielsen and James Earl Jones. Photo: Joan Marcus|
You Can’t Take it with You, but You Can Enjoy it a Lot While You Are in the Theater
By Lauren Yarger
They don’t get much better than this. A wonderful play with a dream cast, lovingly directed by Scott Ellis.
Moss Hart and George S. Kauffman’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play You Can’t Take It With You is the star-studded revival on Broadway that has me smiling this fall. The antics of the zany Sycamore family play out in a rambling old house crammed full of eclectic knickknacks and collections as unique as its inhabitants (designed by David Rockwell).
There is a hodgepodge of people living in the house, headed by Penelope Sycamore (comedic genius Kristine Nielsen), who decided to become a novelist one day when a typewriter was delivered by mistake, and her husband, Paul (Mark Linn-Baker), who spends his time developing fireworks in the basement with Mr. DePinna (Patrick Kerr), who delivered ice one year and who just never left….
Daughter Essie (Annaleigh Ashford)contantly practices the ballet she learns from Boris Kolenkhov (Reg Rogers), who escaped Russia before the revolution and makes candies for shy husband, Ed (a delightful Will Brill who evokes Mr. Bean) to sell when he isn’t busy composing something for her to dance to on the xylophone (Ashford’s attempted dancing is a hoot).
Meanwhile, Grandpa Vanderhof (James Earl Jones) collects snakes, drunken actress, Gay Wellington (Julie Halston), falls asleep in one of the rooms, Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (Elizabeth Ashley) grants an audience and IRS agent Wilbur C. Henderson (Karl Kenzer) wants to know why Grandpa never has paid any income tax. (Vanderhof walked away from his stressful business and the money it brought a long time ago. He prefers not to think about money….)
Now, throw into that mix a love story. Daughter Alice Sycamore (Rose Byrne “Bridemaids,” “Damages”) has fallen in love with Tony Kirby (Fran Kanz), son of wealthy Anthony P. (Byron Jennings) and Miriam Kirby (Johanna Day) who shows up gown-draped and wearing a tiara (thanks to brilliant costume design by Jane Greenwood) on the wrong night.
Alice is mortified at the thought of the proper and “normal” Kirbys meeting her family and sparks do fly (the most entertaining of which are watching Day’s face at the sight of Ashford fluttering about). Chaos ensues when government agents show up to investigate explosives in the house and throw everyone in jail.
You Can’t Take It With You, first presented in 1936, was adapted for film and went on to win the Academy Award. Much of the humor, particularly about taxes and the government’s uses of them, still are relevant. So are the themes about family and unconditional love.
· “Life is kind of beautiful if you just let it come at you.”
· “The only thing that matters is that we love each other.”
It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Nielsen is brilliant as the mother writing lusty romances and Ellis skillfully keeps the stars from competing with each other, or from walking over Byrne, who is making her Broadway debut. He miscasts the role of servant Rheba (Crystal Dickinson), however, and Halston is just a bit too over-the-top.
It’s a lighthearted romp (which probably could use a bit of trimming) into simpler -- and probably better -- times in two hours and 15 minutes (there are three acts and two intermissions).
You Can't Take It With You runs through Feb. 22, 2015 at the Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th St., NYC. Performances: Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. http://allthewaybroadway.com/
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--God's name taken in vain