By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 15, 2005
The word "zany" must have been coined to describe You Can't Take It With You, the 1936 George S. Kaufman/Moss Hart classic playing weekends through Jan. 30 at Stage West Community Playhouse.
Amusing. Hilarious. Daft. Batty. Heartwarming.
It's all that, but so much more, thanks to terrific casting and astute directing by Terri Marwood, Sig Stock's good-looking set, and many memorable performances, particularly by character actors Peter Clapsis as the lovably rough Russian ballet teacher Boris Kolenkhov; Pegge Macor as the delightfully drunk sometimes actor Gay Wellington; Cheryl Roberts as the earnestly un-twinkletoed ballet dancer Essie; and Patti Cotter as the regal Grand Duchess Olga. What delightful, delightful performers.
You Can't Take It With You is the story of three generations of kooky people living in one house in the 1930s. They're led by the philosopher/patriarch Grandpa Marin Vanderhof, played with gentle control by Dave Stenger. Grandpa dropped out 35 years earlier, in a time when people simply didn't do such things. He hasn't paid his income taxes since 1914, which has the IRS banging on the door.
Vanderhof's daughter Penelope Sycamore (Sharon Farnsworth) has temporarily put down her artist's brushes to write plays, not because she has any particular interest or talent, but because someone accidentally delivered a typewriter to the house, and she thought she ought to put it to use.
Downstairs, Penny's husband Paul (Rick Cody) and his buddy Mr. DePinna (Stuart VanSkiver) are making illegal fireworks. Near the dining table, Essie's husband Ed (Marcello Stenico) prints incendiary mottos on his old-fashioned printing press. And out in the kitchen, maid Rheba (Ann Faith) stirs up strange meals while being courted by the laid-back Donald (Ron Biedenkapp), who lives on relief checks.
At first, granddaughter Alice (Jessica Martin), who seems to be the only "normal" one in the household, thinks she can work out a romance with wealthy scion Tony Kirby (Philip Gilbo), her boss' son.
But an unexpected visit by her future in-laws, the stuffy Mr. and Mrs. Kirby (Murray Serether and Andrea Gleason) dashes those hopes. She loves Philip, but she loves her family too fiercely to give them up for her true love.
The dialogue in this show is clever, though sometimes dated; when Paul makes a model replica of the Queen Mary and Grandpa says it needs a hat, few in the audience realize that the writers are making a play on words about the then-reigning British monarch.
And in the age of Ozzy Ozbourne and wacky TV reality shows, the Vanderhof family doesn't seem that far out.
Even so, this show earns well-deserved laughs and is thoroughly enjoyable because of the excellent performances and overall story.
The best part is that no one on the stage seems to be acting, a really tough thing to do in a play where actors could easily go uncomfortably over the top. There's no grandstanding, no ham-fisted over-reactions, just good, solid performances that endear each character to each person in the audience.
Even though some voices didn't project well at the start of the play on opening night and the actors seemed to bunch up a tad too much behind the dining room table, obscuring some of the actors' best moves (how about some lower backs on the dining chairs? and bringing Essie out front some?), this is a play worth seeing and seeing again.
You Can't Take It With You, a comedy, weekends through Jan. 30, at Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill. Shows are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $14. Box office is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and an hour before each show. Call (352) 683-5113.