The Provincetown Theater’s production of You Can’t Take It With You is completely over the top… which is, of course, the way the play needs to be performed. And artistic director David Drake got it just right.
George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1936 comedy classic chronicles the eccentric, chaotic, and bohemian Sycamore family, who definitely put the fun back into dysfunctional. Penny (Jane MacDonald) became a playwright eight years previously when a typewriter was delivered to the house by mistake; her husband Paul (Paul E. Halley) spends his days in the cellar perfecting fireworks with the help of assistant Mr. de Pinna (Tim Famulare); and daughter Essie (Lisa-Marie Nowakowski) and son-in-law Ed (Michael Burke) take their pastimes (dancing, the xylophone, an amateur printing press) extremely seriously. Hilarity, obvious, ensues.
And then there’s Grandpa (Glenn-Starner-Tate), retired from the rat race so he can enjoy his pet snakes and attend random commencement ceremonies. Everyone in this family, in fact, is doing exactly what they want to do with a focus that’s childlike rather than childish, underlined by the appearance of a starchy couple—parents of a prospective son-in-law—whose interests are staid and conventional… and very adult.
The play is chock-a-block with deadpan one-liners that keep the pace moving and—almost—make one forget how really long the performance is. When Ed claims he’s being followed, Grandpa sensibly says, “I can’t imagine why anyone would follow you, Ed.”
Penny demurs. “There’s a lot of kidnapping going on,” she observes.
“But not of Ed,” Grandpa says.
Starner-Tate seems to have most of the best lines in the ensemble cast, but it’s MacDonald as Penny who really shines. Her face is so expressive that it’s hard to not keep watching her whenever she’s on stage, no matter what else happens to be going on. Her timing is spot-on, her portrayal of Penny endearing and just a little goofy, and she provides the anchor that keeps the other actors from drifting too far afield in their own eccentricities.
MacDonald might be the only professional onstage, but it doesn’t mean the others lack talent, and it’s clear that everybody is having a lot of fun. This is truly community theatre at its best. The production cleans up some of the inherent racism of the original (and of Frank Capra’s film version) by having African-American “help” Reba (Sallie Tighe) and her friend Donald (Tim Richmond) join the family at the final dinner table, and the sexist dumb-blonde trope is turned on its head by Beau Jackett’s vacuous Tony, even though there’s not much for Laura Cappello to seize hold of in playing the only sane—if humor- and hobby-less—member of the Sycamore family. And unlike the film, which felt at times to be a heavy-handed indictment of capitalism, this production is lighthearted and possibly more suited to a time when many of us have given up hope that the government can be fair or rational and simply want the opportunity to see Grandpa stick it to them.
The set and the costumes are well-designed, though one might have welcomed a little more of a bohemian look to Penny’s character, but overall both do what they’re meant to: provide a seamless context in and through which the comedy can unfold.
A delightful addition to the cast is Fermin Rojas as expatriate Russian ballet master Mr. Kolenkhov. We can only hope we’ll see more of Rojas onstage; it’s worth the price of admission to just watch him slam John Dennis Anderson—as the Kirby patriarch whose visit to the Sycamore house precipitates all the drama—to the floor in a demonstration of wrestling prowess. Always ready with the bon mot, Grandpa excuses Kolenkhov, observing mildly that “Russians are inclined to look on the dark side.”
Something the audience will never do.
You Can’t Take It With You
May 17-June 2, 2018
Ensemble cast: John Dennis Anderson, Christopher Brooke, Michael Burke, Laura Cappello, Tim Farmulare, Paul E. Halley, Dian Hamilton, Beau Jackett, Jane MacDonald, Lisa-Marie Nowakowski, Tim Richmond, Fermin Rojas, Julia Salinger, Glenn Starner-Tate, James H. Swindler, Sallie Tighe, Dawn Walsh.
Photo credit: Sacha Ferrier-Cohen