Coronado, CA—On the surface, “You Can’t Take It With You” by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman looks just like a goofy, frivolous comedy.
Let’s take a look at the host of eccentric yet happy to the point of distraction characters in this pursuit of happiness caper:
Head of the household (Grandfather) Martin Vanderhof quit his job thirty-five years ago because he didn’t like what he was doing and now does whatever he pleases. Let’s call him eccentrically happy.
Living in his house are his daughter and son in law Penny and Paul Sycamore. Paul makes fireworks and anything that goes boom in the night. His assistant, Mr. De Penna used to be the guy that delivered the ice, but for the past nine or so years has lived with the Sycamore’s making explosives in the cellar (remember those?) with Paul.
Over the past five years Penny has been at her typewriter writing plays (she’s written eleven of them: “Sex Takes A Holiday” is just one) because five years ago a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to the house and she started using it. Before that her passion was painting.
They have two daughters, Alice and Essie. Essie’s husband Ed likes to print on their home printing press. He also plays the xylophone and makes masks. She has been taking ballet lessons for eight years and leaps and flies around the house and is constant motion on pointe. Her teacher is an exiled Russian Boris Kolenkhov. (That’s another story) Penny also makes candy with names like Love’s Dream that Ed sells. In each box he includes a little saying that he has printed up on his home printing press, some read, “Dynamite The Capitol” or “God is the State, The State is God.”
Alice is a secretary in Mr. Kirby’s office. He owns a Wall Street Brokerage Firm. He raises expensive orchids. In today’s circles he would be included in the 1%. In 1936, the time of the play the US was going through the Great Depression but at the time the country was on the upswing (not for long) and Kirby still had his nose in the air and was making money.
On some level Alice would be known as the only ‘sane’ one among them. Things get sticky when the young Kirby falls for Alice and she takes him back to her house to ‘meet the family’. Things get hysterically chaotic when The Kirby’s come to dinner on an unscheduled night.
“You Can’t Take It With You” premiered on Broadway in 1936. In 1937 it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. When it was adapted to screen it won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director. It’s no wonder that Lamb’s Players Theatre wanted to tackle this endearing, timely and precious slice of Americana something they as a company do with excellence. This production, with direction by Kerry Meads, is no exception. It’s a smile from ear to ear play with some LOL moments from opening curtain to finale.
The cast reads like a Who’s Who of theatre pros in our community from Jim Chovick as the loveable yet quirky Grandfather to Steve Gunderson’s loving but head in the clouds Father, Paul. Deborah Gilmour Smyth is their ditsy but caring and concerned Mother, Penny. She is oft time preoccupied with her manuscript plots and does it to a T.
Then there is Jon Lorenz’ Ed, and his serious printing obsessions and xylophone playing. He’s a kick. Lauren King Thompson’s Essie whose energy and constant motion, simulated to look like dancing, loops around everyone. I wish I had her stamina.
Danny Campbell’s Mr. De Pinna and his madcap inventions are a hoot and John Polhamus’s Russian presence is over the top. Jesse Abeel’s young and earnest Kirby is perfect as the naïve and in love suitor and Megan Carmitchel’s Alice is beautifully nuanced and sincere as she tries to protect her family from unnecessary scrutiny while wanting to marry the man she loves.
Rounding out the cast, Andrea Agosto is the Vanderhof maid Rheba. Her boyfriend Donald (Bryan Barbarin) has his own lunacy going on as well. Jeffrey Jones is the nerd Henderson, the IRS agent.
Last but not least is the Kirby Family with John Rosen as the uptight father and Cynthia Gerber the snobbish mother who believes in spiritualism, something Penny calls phony.
All the puzzle pieces fit into this ensemble driven play that is cleverly coordinated to flow like clockwork when pandemonium is the operative word especially when Eileen Bowman enters in a more than half drunken state as the ‘actress’ Gay, someone Grandfather met on the bus and invited home to read one of Penny’s plays. In another role she stands out as a former (before the Revolution) Russian Grand Duchess Olga. Now she works as a waitress at Childs restaurant in NY. Bowman has a brilliant flair for physical comedy.
Mike Buckley’s fussy set accommodates all the cluster, clutter and moveable parts in the form of family and friends coming and going, printing, and playing musical instruments and rumbling cellar door to doors opening to the kitchen.
Nathan Peirson’s lighting captures all the highs and lows, Jemima Dutra’s costumes reflect the period and Robert Smyth’s sound design brings out the music and the mood of the 30’s.
“Kirby: A man can’t give up his business.
Grandpa” Why not? You’ve got all the money you need. You can’t take it with you.”…“As near as I can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends.”
So, back to frivolous and goofy:
There is something to be said about this seventy-year-old play that talks to our generation as well. The Vanderhof/Sycamore Families love each other unconditionally. Money was important but not worshiped. Theirs is more the pursuit of happiness for one another rather than the lust for money. Not such a bad thought.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 29th
Organization: Lamb’s Players Theatre
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 1142 Orange Ave. Coronado, CA 92118
Ticket Prices: Start at $22.00