Glendale Centre Theatre welcomes in 2016 with a terrifically directed and performed 80th-anniversary revival of You Can’t Take It With You, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s comedic look at the charmingly eccentric Vanderhoff/Sycamore clan, a multigenerational family residing together in perfect, if oddball, harmony in a large New York City home circa 1936.
Stage-and-screen vet Peter Renaday stars as Grandpa Martin, who quit Wall Street decades ago because he “wasn’t having any fun” and now lives with:
• Daughter Penny (Andrea Stradling), who writes plays because a typewriter was delivered by mistake eight years ago.
• Granddaughter Essie (Jennifer Strattan), who longs to be a dancer even though her Russian émigré ballet instructor Mr. Kolenkhov (Richard Large) opines that “she stinks.”
• Penny’s husband Paul (Kyle Kelley) and longtime lodger Mr. De Pinna (Ed Thomas), who make fireworks in the basement while Essie’s husband Ed (Justin Radford) plays the xylophone and delivers his wife’s homemade candies (called “Love Dreams”) with hand-printed circulars inside. (The circulars feature quotes by Trotsky proclaiming that “God is the state, the state is God,” not because Ed believes in them but because the words are short and easy to print.)
• African-American maid Rheba (Kymberly Stewart), who cooks meals of “cornflakes and some kind of meat,” while her unemployed boyfriend Donald (Mark Gates) is out catching flies to feed to the family’s pet snakes.
• And last but not least, “normal” granddaughter Alice Sycamore (Danielle Lebens), whose humdrum day job working for a Wall Street banker has led to romance with his handsome son Tony (Josh Evans) and a determination that the best way for Tony to get to know her oddball family would be “in small doses.”
Unfortunately for Alice, Tony and his parents arrive a day early for her painstakingly planned dinner party at the Sycamore’s, leading to an evening of surprises for the stuffy Mr. Kirby (Paul Michael Nieman) and his oh-so-proper wife Miriam (Chenoa Topash Mitsui).
Completing the cast of characters are IRS man Wilber C. Henderson (Brian Pugliese), who sets one plot thread in motion when he shows up to inform Grandpa that he owes about twenty years back income tax; Gay Wellington (Erin Shayla Villaverde), the actress/lush who Penny has invited home to read one of her plays; Mr. Kolenkhov’s royal chum The Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (Tosca Minotto), a Russian émigré who works as a waitress at Childs Restaurant; and a trio of G-Men (Luke Simon, Matt Nieman, and Paul Reid) who find themselves none too happy about the circulars Ed’s been placing in Essie’s candy boxes.
George Strattan directs You Can’t Take It With You for GCT with assuredness, finesse, and an eye towards creating a palpable sense of family among both Kaufman and Hart’s now iconic creations and the terrific troupe of actor actors who put their own personal touches on them.
Renaday’s superb Grandpa anchors the production with razor-sharp timing and deliciously dry wit, and though it’s almost impossible to play favorites, special snaps are due Stradling’s ditzy/deep Penny and the director’s daughter Jennifer, who gives us one of the most adorably klutzy Effies ever (the duo ably supported by a marvelously paternal Kelley and a nerdily adoring Radford), and the fabulous duo of Stewart and Gates, who give Rheba and Donald an extra dollop of sass.
You Can’t Take It With You looks quite splendid in the round thanks to the production’s uncredited set and lighting design, costume designer Angela Manke’s period-perfect fashions, Amanda Bailey’s spot-on 1930s properties, and sound designer Alex Mackyol’s nostalgic musical soundtrack and assorted explosive effects.
Janet Strattan is assistant to the director. Reid is stage manager.
No Broadway comedy classic has stood the test of time better than You Can’t Take It With You, and as staged by Glendale Centre Theatre, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s celebration of non-conformity and Carpe Diem remains every bit as relevant, powerful, and entertaining in 2016 as it did way back in 1936.
Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.
January 7, 2016
Photos: Angela Manke