Reviews

Laurie Colton as Essie Sycamore practices her ballet while John T. Wyczlinski, playing her husband Ed, accompanies her on xylophone.

/  Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017

With so much bitterness and anger surrounding us at every turn, there’s an extra feeling of joy in spending a couple of hours with the offbeat but loving Sycamore family in Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s 1936 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy “You Can’t Take it With You.”

The extended family is back on stage at Venice Theatre in a lively if not always focused production that still celebrates the necessity of doing things that bring pleasure and happiness to your life.

Grandpa Martin Vanderhof quit his high pressured Wall Street job 35 years ago so he could collect snakes and attend college commencement ceremonies or anything else he wanted.

“I’ve had 35 years that nobody can take away from me, no matter what they do to the world,” Grandpa says at one point. And the family that shares his large and crowded New York City home follows his live-for-fun philosophy.

His gracious daughter, Penny, became a playwright because a typewriter was accidentally delivered to the house eight years ago. Her husband, Paul, makes fireworks in the basement with Mr. DePinna, the ice man who made a delivery five years ago and never left. Penny’s daughter Essie fancies herself a ballerina and never stops practicing.

The show’s main conflict is between Penny and Paul’s other daughter, Alice, the one with a stable Wall Street office job who is in love with Tony Kirby, her boss’ son. Alice loves her family but worries that their kookiness might not fit in with the more traditional and upright Kirby family. Part of the show’s pleasure comes when Tony’s parents, all decked out in fancy attire, show up on the wrong night for an introductory dinner party.

Chase Alford as Tony Kirby proposes to his girlfriend Alice Sycamore, played by Julia King.

Director Ron Ziegler, working with a large and spirited cast, keeps the action flowing even if some of the activity doesn’t always have a point or detailed purpose. But the family and their assorted guests manage to bring a smile, if not much in the way out outright laughter.

The frenetic feeling is matched by Tim Wisgerhof’s eye-popping set of the Sycamore house, which suits the family but is also distracting with all the trinkets, busts, paintings and hats on the walls. With a dining table at center stage, there’s also not a lot of room for a comfortable flow of movement.

The cast members stay active and frequently digs into their characters, particularly Ric Goodwin as Grandpa, who conveys a pleasant, down-home aura, and Dawn Carpenter as the sweet-natured Penny. As Essie, Laurie Colton never stops moving in her tutu, and she provides sweet support to John T. Wyczlinski as her xylophone-playing husband, Ed.

As Mr. DePinna, Joe Brunner sounds a bit like a screechy-voiced Henry Aldrich and is game for any potentially embarrassing action. Kristofer Geddie as Donald and Lisa Willis Richardson as the maid, Rheba, contribute to the spirit of the family, as do Gary Seddon as Essie’s stern Russian dance instructor. Though she brings great relish to her roles as a drunken starlet and a deposed grand duchess, Angela Benardo sometimes gets lost amid all the frenzy in the house. Rebecca Cross and Darrell Cross, as Tony’s parents, have a fine starchy attitude.

Jeanette Rybicki’s costumes suit the characters, and John Michael Andzulis’s lighting makes sure our focus stays where it should.

The cast creates the right spirit to counteract our current national mood of division and provide an evening of diversion.