Geva Theatre’s production of You Can’t Take It With You is charming and warm, funny and still relevant. You Can’t It With You, written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, directed by Mark Cuddy, will delight and entertain theatregoers and leave them asking themselves, ‘can we take it with us?’
The Vanderhof family, headed by grandpa, played by Robert Vaughn (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), lives an eccentric life in NYC. All the family does is live to be happy, nearly every member of the family (and those who come to stay and never leave) are doing exactly what they want whenever the mood strikes.
Grandpa’s daughter Penny, played by Brigitt Markusfeld, a mother with two daughters of her own, is a ditzy, flighty woman who has been writing stories for eight years just because a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to their home. Her husband Paul Sycamore, played by Skip Grier, spends his days making fireworks (when he isn’t playing with his toy ship) in the basement with a man named Mr. De Pinna, played by Ray Salah, who came to the house, saw how the family lived, and never left. Essie, played by Melissa Rain Anderson, the youngest daughter, spends her days making chocolate candy and practicing her dance moves. She looks like an over grown Shirley Temple with the personality to match. Her husband Ed, played by Jim Poulos, was one of the many deliverymen that came to the house never to return to the outside world. Occasionally Ed plays a tune on his xylophone and Essie dances around the living room pirouetting and accenting each of her words with a graceful swing of her arms. The cast had such a seemingly natural chemistry; it was easy to believe that these people were family.
What was surprising was the sexual content of the play, written in 1936. Penny instigates a game that uses word association, using sex and lust as a way to see how people’s minds, the minds of a particular rich and uptight husband and wife, played by Robert Rutland and Peggy Cosgrave, work in association with select words. She is also writing a play about a woman who gets stuck in a monastery for days, insert a wink-wink sex joke here. Really pretty racy for the time it was written in the 1930’s and during America’s Great Depression. We were surprised by how risqué the material was, Ruby the maid, played by Nora Cole, having her boyfriend, played by Kim Sullivan, stay over night, Alice, played by Nicole Rodenburg, and her boyfriend Tony, played by Loren Dunn, kissing passionately in the living room, Grandpa telling Essie and Ed to go ahead and ‘make a baby’ and having them run off upstairs after given the go-ahead. We like to think they got away with it in the 30’s because they made people laugh, even if back then it might have made them blush.
Robert Vaughn shines as the witty and sly grandpa that everyone wants to be around, a man with an understated intelligence, wit, charm, and heart. And although the production features a big name Hollywood celebrity, the remainder of the cast is not to be underestimated and keeps pace with Vaughn seamlessly. Brigitt Markusfeld’s portrayal of Penelope Sycamore, Grandpa’s comedic right hand man, charmingly keeps even the most absurd situation believable in a carefree way. And Melissa Rain Anderson’s performance as Penny’s daughter, Essie, doesn’t seem to be a very demanding part, but perhaps it’s because she plays it so convincingly and her comedic timing is spot on every time. Essie will keep you chuckling to yourself as she floats in between every joke lost in her own absurd ballet and even inviting her polar opposite dance instructor, the haggard and roughly outspoken Russian, played by Dick St. George, over for weekly dance instructions that have been taken for the last eight years and are going nowhere. There are so many good characters and so much action taking place on stage, it’s fun and exciting to try and watch everything each actor is doing in their designated place on stage at the same time, imagine taking the concept of a juggling act and turning it into a family sitcom stage drama.
The theme of the play centers around the idea that you cant take money with you so why make yourself miserable by trying to make so much of it and never finding time to relax and be yourself. You witness a family that is happy in their own chaos of creativity and encouragement, picture the modern day dysfunctional family spouting words of encouragement instead of insults, ignoring the real world outside and the stress and pressure of having a job and paying taxes. When we thought about what was going on, whenever we weren’t laughing or ogling the amazing set, designed by Bill Clarke, we thought about the life this family was living and how it reminded us of our own crazy household, during the times when we aren’t at work and are home with our kids.
How many people actually strive to live like the Vanderhof/Sycamore’s? How many people would love to not worry about having a job but just be able to live as we would like, doing what we want day in and day out. Not working for the man, not paying taxes, just being happy. How soon would it be before the real world steps in?
For the sycamore household, reality steps in with Tony, Alice’s boyfriend. They become engaged even though Alice is worried that her eccentric family will never mesh with Tony’s uptight Wall Street Tycoon father and mother. We see that Alice is the most ‘normal’ of the Sycamore family. She has no strange need to play with children’s toys or dance around the house dressed in childish clothing. In contrast, Alice is a slightly boring character, who typically wishes her family was like everyone else’s and is embarrassed to bring her boyfriend to the house in fear of what her family will do to make him uncomfortable. Understandably, Alice and Tony’s love story is necessary as the catalyst of the play, they keep the juggling act moving forward and the tension ever changing, but the formulaic story line of the love birds is the weakest element in the scope of the comedic caper. The actor and actress playing the two lovers make them charming and realistic, and anyone who doesn’t mind a little Titanic style garnish, should be happy when they end up ‘happily every after’ too.
Geva Thetre’s production of You Can’t Take It With You is a great ensemble cast and definitely one of many to pass and many to come for Geva in their continuing celebration their 40th anniversary. There’s still time if you wish to catch this performance, whether you live near Rochester NY or just plan on visiting, since dates extend til October 7, 2012. Tickets should be purchased in advanced online if you are planning on sitting in the front row and can be found at this link: http://www.gevatheatre.org/plays/youcanttakeitwithyou.php
Lisa with Steve