The cast of “You Can’t Take It With You.”
Photo-Clarksville Little Theatre
You Can’t Take It With You
By Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman
Directed by J.R. Stuart
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
What passed for subversive eccentricity in 1936 can still can seem odd, at least if You Can’t Take It With You is any indication. The classic Kaufman and Hart comedy makes comedic hay out of the meeting of two families through romance: Alice Sycamore hails from a family that seems unable to engage in a normal life. The grandfather (Richard Seng) has never paid income tax, his daughter, Penny (Emily Miller) imagines herself a playwright after a typewriter was left on their doorstep, her husband Paul (Jay R.Lillie) spends his days making fireworks with family friend Mr. DePinna (Jerry Prince), her sister Essie dances around the house practicing the moves taught to her by the overly dramatic Russian ballet master Boris Kolenkhov (Jeff Ketterman).
The family of Alice’s beau, Tony Kirby (Wes Yunker) is decidedly not eccentric. His father is a Wall Street banker; wealthy, conservative and respectable. When the two become engaged and the families are to meet for the first time, it is a farcical catastrophe in spite of all efforts to the contrary.
The central conflict of Alice’s choice between loyalty to her family versus her love for Tony seems somewhat less compelling nearly 80 years later, dating the piece a bit, but the play is a sturdy entertainment nonetheless. In the time between the two world wars, Kaufman and Hart ruled the Broadway stage as assuredly as Neil Simon in the 1960’s, and this is one of their best.
J.R. Stuart’s production illustrates the pitfalls of a play demanding such a large cast being mounted by a community theatre. There is indeed a variance in the quality of individual performance that limits the effectiveness of the effort. The first act (kudos to Stuart for maintaining the integrity of the 3-act structure) drags through the introductory exposition a bit, and the comic energy needed to be turned up a notch. Fortunately in Act Two Jeff Ketterman injects a welcome note of high-energy buffoonery as Boris, and Janet Popp’s gin-soaked actress also helps bring the production to life. The whole ensemble benefits, and Michael Gaither, Alphaeus Green Jr., Erica Denise and Eric Sharp also contribute solid performances.
Occasionally the script brushes up against authentic madness and interesting opportunity for commentary that is never fully exploited, such as when it is revealed that Ed Carmichael’s deliveries of Essie’s homemade candy include messages promoting anarchic acts of destruction. Along with Boris’ passionate anti-communist protests, this small note points to subtext more thoughtful than one might have expected, or else they are simply remnants of the time and place in which the play is set. Akin to referencing “war on terror” in a contemporary play and reviving it in the next century.
There is enough attention to detail in sets and costumes to convey the period, reinforced by musical cues leading in and out of scenes. The message of the play is, finally, simple enough to remain of value all these years later: make the most of your life and don’t concede to conventions.
You Can’t Take It With You
November 7-15, 2014
Clarksville Little Theatre
301 East Montgomery Ave.
Clarksville, IN 47129
[box_light]Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.[/box_light]