BWW Review: YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU at UD REP Ensemble
Comedy and catharsis at UD Rep Ensemble.
UD Rep Ensemble by and large stages classics: Shakespeare, Moliere, Bernard Shaw, Tennessee Williams, etc. Plays become classics due to their timeless quality and universal truths; truths that lived, for example, in Shakespeare's time as they do today. The immediacy of live theatre brings these tenets to life before our eyes.
You might not think that a comedy written in 1936 would have direct parallels to the twitter barrage confronting the world each day.
To understate, there is a lot going on in this unit set living room; a surfeit of hullabaloo.
The Sycamores are a wacky family. Mother Penny (Elizabeth Heflin) starts projects in writing ("someone dropped off a typewriter by mistake") and fine art, never finishing anything. (It is just as well, for she is terrible in both genres).
Father Paul (Stephen Pelinski) likes to tinker with dynamite in the basement (Of course. Who doesn't? Why not?). His assistant is Mr. De Pinna (Lee E. Ernst), a former iceman that the family has adopted. Why he has transitioned from iceman to amateur dynamite maker to Grecian discus model to family member, we are not sure, but it does fit the Sycamores' mo.
Sister Essie (Erin Partin) dreams of being a ballet dancer and flickers and flutters about in her tutu. Essie's intrinsic artistic talents parallel her mother's. Essie's husband Ed (Lenny Banovez) is a multi-tasker; xylophone player and printing press operator.
Finally, there is grandfather Martin Vanderhof (James Black) who quit his job 35 years ago because he was not having fun. He keeps pet snakes. Grandpa had not paid taxes for these 35 years. An IRS agent bursts into the home demanding the dollars. Vanderhof, effecting a homespun drawl that sounded remarkedly like Grandpa Will Geer in THE WALTONS is nonplussed, ..."they wouldn't know what to do with it if I gave it to them". The agent espies the snakes, screams and bolts for the door.
Add to this Essie's ballet teacher, Boris Kohlnkhov (John Tyson), who is exponentially more overheated about the fall of his Czarist Russia 20 years past than Essie's instruction. Poor Boris has a problem about everything. "Everything stinks"! The family accepts each declaration, repeated ofttimes.
The audience now understands this is quite an agglomeration of eccentrics. Oh, I forgot Gay Wellington (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) a stage artist who was invited over to read a part in Penny's non-sequitur play. Gay's problem is that she came with a gin bottle half empty and has a little 'problem' with the lines. She explains to Penny, "the bottle gets put away until intermission...burp". (Tague returns in Act II as Olga, cousin to the Romanov Grand Duchesses. Sadly, Olga has been reduced from the St. Petersburg Palace to a lowly waitress at a local restaurant). Tague and Tyson have spot on accents and are masters at 'takes'.
UD Rep Ensemble Players do comedy exceedingly well.
Designer Hugh Landwehr's set is as busy, kooky and idiosyncratic as the Sycamores. He must have visited every Goodwill in 3 states.
Costume Designer Judith Dolan. Wow...all so very period. So much fun. So reminiscent. I can only imagine the reaction when Pirkl first saw her Olga dress. The first thought I had as Olga entered, 'oh my, how does this woman sit down'? Dolan, a Tony Award winner from Brdway's CANDIDE (my all-time favorite Brdway overture). She worked with Hal Prince? OMG.
Peruse the program book's Technical/Creative credits: Danae Iris McQueen, Asst. Costume Design; Kevin Rigdon, Light Design; Rob Miburn and Michael Bodeen, Sound Design. Along with the aforementioned Landwehr and Dolan, these creatives are heavyweights in their fields with major Brdway credits. One wonders how Sandy Robbins persuades them on a ticket price of $26.00? Excellence of production? Yes! We are seeing Brdway quality shows. We should all be buying season tickets.
Why is Aisle Say going through all these characters and plot? Because in Act II, when Grandpa is confronting the rich and condescending Mr. Kirby (John Rensenhouse), the real message of the show begins.
Tony Kirby (Michael Gotch) loves Alice (Sara Griffin) the only 'normal' Sycamore. The Kirby's are against it; the Sycamores being way too odd for their tastes and 'status'. Mr. Kirby (John Rensenhouse) orders his son to leave. Tony confronts his Father about his Dad's aspirations when he was a young man, "You wanted to be a trapeze artist"! Grandpa mines deeper. He asks Mr. Kirby, ..,"does he like his life"? "Why does he have ulcers'? "You know, Mr. Kirby, you can't take it with you".
During that interchange, I cried. I literally cried. The parallels are as evident as Trump's lack of self-esteem. I cried for our country for what Trump has done to divide us. This is not just a comedy about a kooky family vs. the self-entitled upper crust. As Sandy Robbins wrote in his notes, 'the Sycamore family philosophy serves as "a source of hope and vigor as we deal with the harsh realities of the moment". This is Robbins' 3rd time directing this show. He knows the message. Most probably he chose the show because of what it says.
The crying was a catharsis...if only for two hours. Was Trump ever loved as a child? I'm serious. Did his father ever give him approval?
The most sadistically ironic moment came this past weekend. The racist Trump is fiddling at his golf resort, then seen presenting 'The President's Cup' to privileged golfers, all the while US citizens are sweltering and dying in Puerto Rico.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man most responsible for changing Brdway in the past decade - and a native of Puerto Rico - tweeted "Trump will go straight to hell...on his golf cart".
The true catharsis for America will come when Trump either resigns or is forced from office...weekly scandals, obstruction of justice, racist, misogynist, narcissist, incapable of empathy.
I saw the Sycamore family, however batty they be, were bonded by their love for one another. Even Alice - who acknowledged the family's craziness - loved them with all her heart.
We need live theatre to continue to tell us these universal truths of honor, virtue, love and family to get us through the nightmare of Trump. UD Rep Ensemble's wonderful actors and crew give us hope. We need to support them and all live theatre.
Through Oct 8 Rep.Udel.edu 302.831.2204
Next Up: FROM THE AUTHOR OF Nov 9