Reaching deep into the proverbial treasure chest of American classics, Little Theatre of Alexandria has pulled out and dusted off Kaufman and Hart’s beloved “You Can’t Take It With You.” Arguably the most screwball of comedies in the American comedy canon, the play is actually a show that directors and dramaturgs are drawn to, moths to the odd, eccentric spotlight.
A breath of needed fresh air when it premiered in 1936, as Depression-era gloom was holding many Americans in economic despair. Whatever the inspiration was for the play, opening the door to the house of the Sycamore clan and their unexplained add-ons (some people just show up and stay) is an experience whereupon one is mildly shocked, then amused, and eventually all in. This could be a retro statement about the danger of the nose to the grindstone following the backbreaking American dream. A lovely lunacy bin of leisure is created. LTA’s production, directed by Stephen Jarrett, conveys this well, even through our present day doom and gloom headlines.
Times are hard out there, but inside, the Sycamores feels no such pain. We meet Mr. Paul and Mrs. Penelope Sycamore (Amy Griffen and Ted Culler), sweet natured types that just pass the day doing what they want. Peneolope is the writer of many unproduced plays since a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to her house some years ago. So there she sits, happily banging the keys, asking for ideas. Paul experiments with fuses and explosives for fireworks and can be found in the basement. Each character has an offbeat calling card. Griffen keeps all the players in line, in an eternally sweet, daffy voice. Culler has wide eyed innocence of a child playing in a sandbox.
Essie, Penelope’s daughter (Raenna Larson) has devoted her last 8 years to ballet—and enthusiastically spins and teeters throughout the show. She also is a candy maker along with her husband Ed (a goofily lovable Jonathan Gruich), who plays the xylophone and runs a little printing press on the side. Studying under outrageous Russian expat dance teacher Boris Kolenkhov (a booming, over the top Peter Halverson), she dreams of the big time. No rush. Time is different at the Sycamores
This staging features some stellar performances up and down that merge nicely into the patchwork quilt of nuttiness.
The moral compass of the show is the patriarch, Grandpa Vandehrof (Bernard Engel) who decided to give up his corporate job and just enjoy life, relax and take in commencement ceremonies. His smooth, measured take is the voice of reason in the show. When Grandpa intones that he used to worry about who was president, “but who cares now?” it strikes a chord in the audience about what we think is important.
There is, alas, trouble in lazy paradise. Alice Sycamore (Emmy Leaverton), the one odd family member who has a real job (think cousin Marilyn in “The Munsters”) has fallen in love with Tony Kirby (Matt Tucker), the son of the strait-laced boss of the company. Their betrothal means a collision between duty and work vs happiness and freedom that his upper crust parents will meet Alice’s wacky clan, which could put the kibosh on everything.
This staging features some stellar performances up and down that merge nicely into the patchwork quilt of nuttiness. Physical comedy is also at work—Essie spinning on her toes, Kolenkhov wrestling with Mr. Kirby, the explosions setting off a frenzy. And in a fascinating way, there is harmony where there should be cacophony. The basic lesson is that everyone has accepted each other’s habits and obsessions and even supported them.
The stage is a workmanlike representation of the original, and producers Jamie Blake and Eileen Doherty and designer Grant Levin Lane did make it look like there was a run on picture frames at Goodwill but fit the kitschy surroundings.
The fine blend of madcap action throughout, with a few stumbles, Try not to recollect the craziness of your own family if their antics were ever put onstage.
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with a 15-minute intermission between Act 1 and Act 2.
“You Can’t Take It With You” is presented at the Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St, Alexandria, VA from Feb. 23 to March 16, 2019. For tickets to this or other performances in the 2019 season, call the Box Office at 703 683-04963 or online.