The Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge has taken a big chance on reviving an old chestnut of a play, Kaufman & Hart’s "You Can’t Take it With You", and I have good news. They haven’t just revived it, they have filled it with life and heart and all the things that make great theatre.
The plot is an old one, but: "You Can’t Take it With You" set the standard by which all the others are judged. The story revolves around a young woman who is in love with the son of her straight-laced boss, but she is afraid that her potential in-laws will balk when confronted with her unrestrained eccentric family.
This Pulitzer prize winning play was first presented during the Depression. To her credit, director Jeanine Haas has kept it in that time period. The comedy and message of this play are timeless and resonate perfectly with the contemporary audience. Ms. Haas sets just the right tone and succeeds delightfully, thanks to her vision and a cast of superb actors.
The large cast of characters that compose the free-spirited (to say the least) Sycamore family and their live-in friends are all assorted oddballs. They live out their dreams under the patriarchal eye of Grandpa, who quit business 35 years prior to relax and do nothing. Grandpa is wonderfully acted with a bright permanent twinkle by Court Dorsey. Mr. Dorsey’s performance is nothing less than extraordinary, embodying the play’s spirit and core.
Grandpa’s daughter Penny is a scatterbrained and ditsy playwright/artist acted with great verve and abandon by Kim Johnson. Paul, her husband, who makes fireworks in their basement, is inhabited by the always entertaining Doug Ryan. Ryan is a wonder, his face illuminating every comic nuance without ever distracting from the insane goings-on.
Playing their daughter Alice is the lovely Myka Plunkett. While this is often a thankless role, Plunkett gives it punch and sass to keep it colorful and completely engaging.
Veteran Christine Decker deserves great praise, not just for her usual fine comic performance, but for the courage to play Mr. Kirby, Alice’s boss. With a thin mustache and a swagger that would put Donald Trump to shame, she shines and gives no quarter. A salute to the director for this inspired choice, and to Ms. Decker for pulling it off so perfectly.
Even the smaller roles are filled with engaging actors. A simple "how do you do" becomes comic gold in the large and capable hands of Chris Barlow playing the Russian Kolenkhov, Paul’s partner Mr. DePinna (Scott Renzoni) is an eccentric gem, and Tina Padgett as Rheba can make you laugh with the arch of an eyebrow.
The rest of the ensemble is priceless, and I hate to give short shrift to anyone, as everyone deserves kudos for this superb production. Even the caged birds on stage seemed to chirp on cue. There are some actors playing dual roles here, normally a sign of a scarcity of available talent, but planned in this case to add to the overall lunacy and fun.
Even the set is a wonder. Kudos must go to Benji White and Karen Koziol for their "everything including the kitchen sink" approach to set decoration, turning the space into the wild and wooly Sycamore home.
This is a play that succeeds or fails on the strength of its ensemble of actors. Played too broadly, the comedy loses its soul. The great news is that the acting here is dead-on, real and heartfelt. The characters appear to be having such a good time that you can’t help but be dragooned into their world, laughing all the way. If you are exhausted from the recent election and need a tonic, this is a play that would cheer Mitt Romney up. Do yourself a great big favor, call 518-677-2495 and make a reservation. It is playing weekends through Nov. 25th. I plan on making another visit, the Sycamore Family is just too hard to resist.