Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Columns & Opinions
   The Simple Life
   Looking Up
   Myth America
   Rapp On This
 News & Features
   What a Week
   Loose Ends
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   The Movie Schedule
   Listen Here
   Art Murmur
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad
Not enough fireworks: (l-r) Nobel and Zeltner in You Can’t Take It With You.

Joy Becomes Laughter
By James Yeara

You Can’t Take It With You

By George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill

Capital Repertory Theatre, through Dec. 18

Classic comedies at their cores are about serious themes; Shakespeare’s comedies almost always have someone under a death sentence or similarly imperiled. The notion that comedies are fluff and nonsense comes from people more at ease with the theatrical equivalent of fast food—all that fat, salt and sugar fill, but aren’t fulfilling. Classic comedies are as sustaining as classic tragedies. The difference rests in how society and individuals are treated. Tragedies affirm society as being right, while comedies show the folly of society. This helps to explain why comedies aren’t taught in high schools, but tragedies are. Individuals are sublime in comedies, while in tragedies society’s proprieties must be preserved by keeping the sublime with the gods and death. George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1936 classic comedy You Can’t Take It With You shows the supremacy of individuals over the conformity of society. It takes those two certainties of life—death and taxes—and sticks them up society’s rear.

Kaufman and Hart fill grandpa Martin Vanderhof’s (chocolate-voiced Richard Mawe) “around the corner from Columbia University” home with individuals: mother Penny Sycamore (the redoubtable Eileen Schuyler) types her plays with titles like Sex Takes a Holiday or the war drama Gas Attack while appropriately surrounded by snakes and kitties; daughter Essie (the limber Rachel Sullivan) stretches, creating balletic flutters of movement while waiting for her Love Dream candies to cool in the kitchen; the maid Rheba (vivaciously focused Iris M. Farrugia) sets tables and checks on the progress of Penny’s plays (“You’d think with 40 monks and one girl something would happen”) with aplomb; Penny’s husband Paul (John Noble) and random border Mr. DePinna (Ted Zeltner) make fireworks as 1936 performance art—they enthusiastically plan on depicting the Russian Revolution in gunpowder—in the basement; Essie’s husband Ed (Kris Anderson) plays the xylophone as Essie flutters; and the regular visitors, Rheba’s almost live-in boyfriend Donald (the funny and fast Shawn Williams) and Boris Kolenkov (Terry Rabin), Essie’s ballet teacher. Even first-time visitors Gay Wellington (the hysterical Nicola Sheara), a drunk actress who comes to read one of Penny’s plays and stays to pass out on any horizontal surface, and Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (the even-more-hysterical Nicolevnya Shearonovsky), who comes to dinner and stays to cook—bring their own brand of individualism to a family pursuing happiness with the ardor of a herd of cats purring contently over a saucer of cream.

Into this mix daughter Alice (a charming Meghan Doherty) brings her boss’s son Tony Kirby (Tug Coker, who doesn’t imitate Jimmy Stewart—the film version’s Tony—as much as he channels Stewart’s wholesomeness and honesty) in a quest for normalcy. When Tony’s indicted Wall Street father (Stephen Bradbury) comes to dinner a day earlier than planned, the non sequiturs fly fast and furious: G-men come to arrest Grandpa Martin for not paying his taxes and Ed for printing up communist threats; the fireworks in the basement explode (the one true dud in the production); and Penny’s parlor game reveals Mr. Kirby’s hollow core.

While director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill is true to the disciplined structure of this classic comedy, the comic spirit is constrained. The cast get the laughs Kaufman and Hart wrote, but the manic spirit and the joy of tweaking the nose of propriety—“A cat can look at a king, can’t it?” Martin asks a disapproving Alice when she attempts to inoculate Mr. Kirby from her family’s lunacy—are missing. It is well-costumed, well- constructed, well-blocked and well- spoken. This You Can’t Take It With You is funny, but not hysterical; free, but not liberating; interesting, but not moving. A play about the pursuit of happiness and allowing the happenstance of good karma to overcome the certainties of government bureaucracy, business machinations, and the aforementioned death and taxes, is a play that demands a little manic spirit.

Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home
Banner 10000136
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 419 Madison Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.