BWW Reviews: The Alley Theatre's YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU is Amusing, Spirited, and Relevant
When it comes to American Theatre from the 1930s, one of the leading writing duos was George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. This pair is integral in the development of Modern American Theatre. They are often studied in survey courses that chart the progression of the art form, and most agree that together they wrote some of America's favorite comedies. Their hilarious and heartwarming 1936 play YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU premiered at the Booth Theater on December 14, 1936 and ran for 837 performances. It also won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. When it was adapted for film by Frank Capra and Robert Riskin in 1938, it won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. Now, in 2013, The Alley Theatre is reviving the classic and hysterical masterpiece about an eccentric family that is happily surviving the Great Depression. It's 1936, and their key to bliss is to embrace the love they have for one another, their hobbies, and to find ways to simply enjoy the life they've got.
Leaving last night's opening night performance of YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, my face was glowing. I look around and everyone was wearing a beaming smile. Also, some eyes were misty because of Grandpa's poignant and touching climatic discussion with Mr. Kirby. However, nothing could impede the sense of euphoria and mirth that had washed over the audience. Directing the production, Sanford Robbins skillfully coached his cast in delivery, making each joke land squarely to earn voluminous laughter. He also skillfully directed the beloved classic to ensure that its universal and seemingly timeless messages about what defines a happy family and how the path to happiness is just to tune the world out, embrace your individuality, find your own personal freedom, and live life are masterfully brought out. The importance and weightiness of the thematic elements are front and center in this production so that they aren't lost in the zany whirlwind of the eclectic family. Furthermore, with the recent threat of a government shutdown, several lines are surprisingly relevant for modern audiences such as:
The production is well cast, and no one actor tries to steal the scene or the show. For a majority of the production, the cast works cohesively as an ensemble, keeping the funny bits light and merry so that when the show does get serious it is wonderfully affecting. Josie de Guzman's Penelope "Penny" Sycamore is sprightly and charming. Todd Waite's Paul Sycamore is like a little boy with a fanciful imagination. John Tyson's Boris Kolenkhov is a screwball cartoon of a Russian immigrant whose unpredictable behaviors leave the audience in stitches. Elizabeth Bunch's drunken Gay Wellington has a grand exit that earns thunderous applause and hearty guffaws. Jasmine Bracey and David Rainey as Rheba and Donald are delightful caricatures of working class African-Americans, and while some of their lines (especially out of context of the show) may rub our PC sentimentality the wrong way, last night's audience went with the flow and truly got swept away by their superb performances.
Tax Man: What about Congress, and the Supreme Court, and the President? We gotta pay them, don't we?
Grandpa: Not with my money.
Emily Neves' Alice and Jay Sullivan's Tony Kirby make an absolutely adorable couple. Their onstage chemistry is perfect, which makes the love the characters feel for one another intoxicating. Moreover, Emily Neves brings vivid life to Alice's insecurities and fears about her seemingly crazy family, providing the second act with the appropriate high stakes. Individually, they offer strong performances that fascinate, but together Emily Neves and Jay Sullivan are beguiling and warm the hearts of the audience. It would be impossible not to root for their characters to have the happily ever after they long for.