Wednesday, March 19, 2014

You Can't Take It With You

“You Can’t Take it With You” is the 1937 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It ran for nearly 900 performances on Broadway and was made into a movie in 1938, directed by Frank Capra.

Now on the Winters Community Theatre stage, under the direction of Anita Ahuja, this revival is a comedy guaranteed to keep the audience laughing through all three acts.

It is the story of the rather odd Sycamore family, with eccentric Grandpa Vanderhof at its head. This is one of Tom Rost’s better roles. He lives his life by the philosophy “don’t do anything that you’re not going to enjoy doing.” He goes to circuses, commencements, throws darts and collects stamps, and he hasn’t paid taxes in more than 35 years.

Daughter Penny Sycamore (Dona Akers) is a would-be playwright who has a file of half-finished scripts. When we first meet her, her plot is stuck in a monastery, and she can’t figure out how to get out, so she switches to work on the “war play” for a while.

Husband Paul Sycamore (Jesse Akers) is a man who doesn’t have a lot to say, but spends his time down in the basement with “Mr. DePinna” (Rodney Orosco), designing and building fireworks for the upcoming Fourth of July celebration.

Daughter Essie (Lori Vaughn) is a dancer who spends her entire life doing pirouettes and leaps about the house as she spends time inventing new candies (she was played in the movie by a very young Ann Miller). Is Essie any good? “She stinks!” says her teacher, Boris Kolenkov (Phillip Pittman, in a commanding, overpowering performance), who calls her “my Pavlova” and encourages her because she is having such a good time. The fee he gets for her lessons is also a great incentive.

Jim Hewlett plays Ed Carmichael, Essie’s husband, a xylophone player and printer who often accompanies Essie musically and who distributes her candies with the fliers he prints to accompany them. Hewlett is always such fun to watch on stage because of his exuberance. He is obviously having a great time with his characters.

Alice Sycamore (Kathleen Dodge), Penny and Paul’s other daughter, comes the closest to being a normal person. She loves her family to death, she frequently tells everyone, but when faced with introducing them to her boyfriend Tony (William Haggerty), the son of her boss, she sees their oddities and is embarrassed. Will the family’s eccentricities hurt their relationship?

Alexis Velasquez gives a solid performance as Rheba, the maid who somehow manages to keep the family in shape. Her boyfriend Donald (Manny Lanzaro) also gets drawn into the family dynamic and escapades.

If you have ever seen Germaine Hupe on stage, you will be blown away by her performance as Gay Wellington, an actress Penny brings home for a reading of one of her plays. Trust me, this is a side of Hupe that you have never seen before. She is a delight.

Tony’s parents, Mr. Kirby (Michael Barbour) and Mrs. Kirby (Ann Rost), show up for dinner a night too early and are thrust into the height of the craziness of the Sycamore household.

In the middle of the confusion, government agents (Mike McGraw, Lou Velasquez and Larry Justice) show up to take Ed to jail for plots against the government, and end up arresting the entire stage.

When all are released and back home again, Kolenkov brings the Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (Laure Olson), now defected from Russia and working as a waitress in a New York restaurant, home for dinner. I would like to have been a fly on the wall when Kauffman and Hart came up with that plot line from left field.

The production suffered from some opening-night jitters, with lots of lines missed, but the rest of the cast covered beautifully. The audience didn’t mind. They were too busy laughing.

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