You Can’t Take It With You
by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
The Duluth Playhouse
Directed by Rob Hadaway
Reviewed by Phil Fitzpatrick
I could start this off with the usual critic-speak about Pulitzers, Tonys, Oscars, Broadway, Jimmy Stewart-this, Lionel Barrymore-that. Instead, I’m going to cut to the chase: You Can’t Take It With You, opening this weekend at The Duluth Playhouse, provides a more palatable alternative to the daily news and will boost your faith in humanity, if only for too short an evening.
Making his directorial debut in Duluth, Rob Hadaway has worked as a circus clown, played one of the Three Stooges in Vegas, and founded The Big Top Theater in Marietta, Georgia, where he served as artistic director for ten years. The 1937 play he directs here remains surprisingly relevant, with references to tax money, the rat race, and our “inner child.” It’s like Seinfeld on steroids or an industrial strength episode of The Big Bang Theory.
The veteran cast handles the organized pandemonium with aplomb. They pick up cues with precision, inhabit their characters convincingly, and dare you to lose track of them whenever they are onstage.
Photo courtesy of The Duluth Playhouse
Ed Carmichael (Tim Komatsu) shows off for Penny Sycamore (Kristen Hambleton), Essie (Hannah Smart), and Grandpa Vanderhof (Kevin Walsh).
•Photo caption has been corrected to reflect Kristen Hambleton's correct name and the character she plays.
Who needs a plot with this cast? But, in a nutshell, the benevolent family patriarch, Martin Vanderhof (Kevin Walsh), is behind on his taxes. His granddaughter, Alice Sycamore (Louisa Scorich), is dating her Wall Street boss’ son, Tony Kirby (Jason Scorich), and Tony brings his parents (Ellie Martin and Kendall Linn) over for dinner a night earlier than they were expected.
Ann Gumpper’s set is as expansive as the talent putting it to such captivating use. Baby Boomers will get a vivid “Grandma and Grandpa’s house” fix, which perfectly captures the lived-in look of a sprawling three-generation post-Depression New York home.
In fact, the Vanderhof-Sycamore-Carmichael household doubles as a boardinghouse. As Penny Sycamore (Kirsten Hambleton) says of basement denizen Mr. De Pinna (Kirby Wood), “He was delivering ice and just decided to stay.” De Pinna and Penny’s husband, Paul Sycamore (David Short), create a hair-raising moment with the help of some convincing pyrotechnics, thanks to the sound and lighting of Jeff Brown and Joe Birdseye.
The second-generation family members include Essie and Ed (Hannah Smart and Tim Komatsu), who play xylophone, practice ballet, print menus and socialist tracts, and cook Love Dreams.
Servants Rheba (Cathy Berggren) and Donald (Kyle McMillan) flit in and out like aproned butterflies. An IRS agent (Robert Sidenberg) takes a meek stab at establishing some sense of order.
Another adopted family member is Essie’s ballet instructor Boris Kolenkhov (Michael Kraklio), whose proclamations on Russian history, medical diagnosis, and dance criticism require earplugs and a durable dining room table. Kraklio’s thunderous presence is an arresting counterpoint to the otherwise light-hearted ditziness.
Noteworthy are the dual roles of faded actress Gay Wellington and Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (Carolyn LePine, familiar to Duluth theater-goers from Moon for the Misbegotten and Guys and Dolls). LePine masters an impressive range, but—no spoilers: You’ll just have to make do with the words “pickled” and “queenly.”
A 2010 Denver Post poll asked 177 theater professionals to rank the top American plays, and You Can’t Take It With You was the only comedy in the top 20. Draw your own conclusions about such lists, but a comedy that can shoulder its way alongside classics by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, and August Wilson deserves notice. There is, indeed, something for everybody in this endearing, family-friendly production.
You Can’t Take It With You runs February 9-11 and 16-18 at 7:30 p.m. and February 12 and 19 at 2 p.m. at The Duluth Playhouse, 506 West Michigan Street.