"You Can't Take It With You" review
"That was awesome!" a kid sitting behind me blurted out during the Oct. 17 dress rehearsal of "You Can't Take It With You" at the Waukesha Civic Theatre.
The youngster was commenting on a simulated explosion of fireworks, for which lighting and sound co-designers Scott Fudali and Keith Handy deserve at least some of the credit. The comment was on-target, for the faux fireworks display was rather a magical moment.
George S. Kaufmann and Moss Hart's venerable comedy and director John Kibler's WCT rendition of same are magical enough, if not exactly "awesome." (How many plays, even professional productions, actually reach the level of that inflated adjective?) Typical of WCT, the acting is solid and the set (A.J. Simon's work) attractive in "You Can't Take It With You."
Kibler has made some clever choices in helming his first Waukesha production. The play opens with a character typing (not word-processing; this is the 1930s, after all) and Kibler has Leroy Anderson's "The Typewriter" playing simultaneously. Moreover, the main Kaufmann/Hart character, Grandpa Vanderhof, has become Nana Vanderhof (played, with just the right combination of control and compassion, by Antoinette Stikl). For good measure, fireworks connoisseur Mr. De Pinna is Miss De Pinna in the WCT version. Kibler has the curtain open and close occasionally, something seen less and less often on stages nowadays (it works just fine here) and introduces various scenes with excerpts from various period recordings ("Begin the Beguine," for one).
"You Can't Take It With You" is very much an ensemble play, an excellent vehicle for providing meaty yet manageable roles for a slew of actors. Nana's extended clan includes her daughter and son-in-law; two granddaughters and a grandson-in-law; Miss De Pinna, who came to the house years ago to make a delivery and never left; a maid and her boyfriend; and a bombastic Russian ballet teacher who makes the Vanderhof place his home away from home.
The first paragraph of the playwrights' first stage direction summarizes the play's idea and action by describing activities in the Vanderhof living room: " …. Here meals are eaten, plays are written, snakes collected, ballet steps practiced, xylophones played, printing presses operated—if there were room enough there would probably be ice skating. In short, the brood … goes on about the business of living in the fullest sense of the word. This is a house where you do as you like, and no questions asked."
As the play progresses, the younger of Nana's granddaughters emerges as the sane one in the family and becomes engaged to a kindly co-worker—who gets a big kick out of the nutty clan. The new fiance's upper-crust parents show up unexpectedly (and are taken aback). Also arriving at one time or another are an IRS agent (Nana hasn't felt the need to pay taxes for a long, long time; "What do I get for my money?" she wonders), an oafish pair of G-Men and an incredibly intoxicated actress.
After 75 years, the play remains capable of eliciting laughter—even if a few of its references are likely to be lost on anybody shy of, say, 45. A few lines were fumbled—not enough to cause much concern at a community theater company's dress rehearsal. Dialogue was delivered clearly and facial expressions of Colleen Glatzel as Miss De Pinna, and David Boxhorn and Mina Miller as stuffy Mr. and Mrs. Kirby were pictures worth 1,000 words. Donna Daniels and Dan Hargarten merit special mention for first-rate turns as Nana's playwright daughter and pyrotechnics-obsessed son-in-law, as does Mark Neufang for his utterly likable husband-to-be, Tony Kirby.
In fact, every actor was satisfactory; none seemed miscast. And they tended to engage in appropriate stage business, to their and Kibler's credit, when it was another character's turn to speak. If the Vanderhof patriarch (er, matriarch) is the star of the show, there are many worthy co-stars in the galaxy currently on display at WCT.
IF YOU GO
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
What: "You Can't Take It With You"
When: Through Nov. 3
Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukesha
Tickets: (262) 547-0708
Info: www.waukeshacivictheatre .org
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