The oh-so-proper Kirbys (Byrd Bonner & Christi Eanes) and their son (Hunter Wulff) arrive at the Sycamore home just as Penelope (Catherine Babbitt) has decided to finish a painting of Mr. De Pinna (John O'Neill) as a discus-thrower.
Photos by Siggi Ragnar
Grandpa (Allan S. Ross) leads a blessing after the wild goings-on at the previous night's dinner. Below: Penelope (Catherine Babbitt) keeps candy in the skull.
September 14, 2017
During the Depression, even the smallest distractions were deeply appreciated. Thus, board games such as Monopoly and Scrabble were introduced in the 1930s, cinematic musicals and gangster films thrived, and families gathered around their radios to hear dramas, serials and comedy shows. The same was true of theatrical fare such as the 1937 Pulitzer-Prize-winning farce You Can't Take it with You (1936), by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman.
The Classic Theatre opened its 10th
season on Sept. 8 with an
entertaining, appropriately inane
version of the piece, chock full of excellent actors assembled and
expertly directed by Mark Stringham, who keeps things busy yet subtly controlled.
The plot may have been new when it
was written, but it is all too familiar
today: An unconventional group or
family tries to act “normal” when
faced with prudish or judgmental
Stage directions note that the
Sycamore family can do anything it
wants, with no questions asked. And
they do, with a father, Paul (Andrew
Thornton), who reads Trotsky and
makes fireworks in the basement with
Mr. DePinna (hilariously underplayed by John O’Neill), a delivery man who dropped in and has remained there for years. There's a lovable but untalented daughter, Essie (Randee Lutterloh), who makes candy to sell and dreams of being a ballerina, spending all day pirouetting and pliéing. Her quirky husband (Steven Starr) uses his printing press to make weird notes that he puts in his wife's candy boxes and plays the xylophone whenever he pleases. Jim Mammarella is a hoot as Essie's extroverted Russian ballet teacher.
Grandpa Martin (the always dependable Allan S. Ross) retired 35 years ago, keeps snakes in an aquarium in the living room, and collects rents but refuses to pay income tax. His daughter, Paul's wife Penelope (Catherine Babbitt, with perfect comic timing), uses a typewriter that was mistakenly delivered to her several years ago to write a pile of unfinished plays. The most levelheaded family member is Essie's sister, Alice (Maggie Tonra), who loves her family and freely accepts all their quirkiness. She is the fiancée of smart, sensible Tony Kirby (Hunter Wulff). The only other clear-thinking characters are the hired help: housekeeper Rheba (Megan van Dyke) and her wisecracking boyfriend, Donald (Justin Keown).
Alice's acceptance of her family's eccentricities is about to be tested with the impending visit of Tony's very wealthy parents. They set about planning a fine dinner and promising Alice that they will “behave,” but the priggish, pompous Kirbys (Byrd Bonner and Christi Eanes) arrive a day early. Oops, utter – and thoroughly delectable – chaos follows.
The expected madness ensues until Penelope comes up with a clever way to absorb them: a written word game. Well, it involves words like lust and sex, sparking unexpected and embarrassing answers from that prim pair. And then there's the drunken actress (Whitney Marlett) supposedly brought home by Penelope to play a part in one of her plays. Why the playwrights created her is a head-scratcher, but she does shake things up when she suddenly crawls out from under the table and lands on Mr Kirby's lap.
There's more lunacy, but eventually things begin to settle down. A few days later, the ballet master brings a guest to the Sycamores: a Russian grand duchess who has escaped the Revolution and is waiting tables at a nearby restaurant until she is returned to her former glory. It's a brief role, but Magda Porter is ideal, especially when she admits loving to cook and sets about making blintzes with an apron tied over her elegant gown.
The playing space is set up as three-quarter round, very close to the audience. We're talking seriously intimate, but none of the actors appeared intimidated. Diane Malone's design is a comfy, lived-in home featuring a central dining table, various furnishings and a rear hallway whose walls are covered with family photos.
Kudos to Pedro Ramirez's lighting (including fireworks explosions) and costume designer Jodi Karjala, who kept things period-appropriate (and managed to make the normally chic Ms. Babbitt look downright dowdy). We enjoyed sound designer Rick Malone's mix of swing and ballet music.
The title? It comes from a line directed to Mr. Kirby: “You've got all the money you need and you can't take it with you.” Hmmmm…
You Can't Take it with You runs weekends through Oct. 1. 1924 Fredericksburg Rd. (210) 589-8450.
Classic Theatre /You Can’t Take It with You, by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
Normal is overrated