NY Theater Review Sandi Durell
What would you do with a typewriter mistakenly delivered on your doorstep? Well, of course. Take it as an omen to start writing plays just as Penelope (Penny) Sycamore (Kristine Nielsen) has been clicking away at for the 8 years since that machine arrived – all of them unfinished. Her husband Paul (Mark-Linn Baker) makes firecrackers that keep exploding in the basement with Mr. DePinna (Patrick Kerr) who delivered ice one day and became a permanent member of the household; their daughter Essie (Annaleigh Ashford) wants to be a ballet dancer but she’s a real klutz as she pirouettes and leaps around the wonderfully cluttered house (designed by David Rockwell) to the beat of her weird husband Ed’s (Will Brill) xylophone rendition of Beethoven. Ed also has a thing for printing Trotsky quotations on his printing press that accompany the candies that Essie makes and sells.
And there’s deliciously loving Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (James Earl Jones) – well, who can blame him for leaving the work force years back to enjoy life and his pet snakes and not paying taxes for 24 years? After all, no one should live just to work because it’s un-American! And he lets that IRS agent Henderson (Karl Kenzler) know exactly how he feels when told we got to pay Congress and the President! “$75 is what it’s worth” he retorts.
Do we know any families as zany and wacky as the Sycamores that George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart wrote about back in 1936? It’s a household of chaotic bliss in this loving environment and so this comedy (revived after 30 years) goes to the heart of family, sticking together and pure joy of living.
So when Penny and Paul’s young beautiful daughter Alice (Rose Byrne in her Broadway debut) falls in love with her boss’ son Tony ((Fran Kranz), and wants some normalcy, all hell breaks loose because Tony, who comes from an upper crust Wall Street family, makes Alice even more aware of just how kooky her bohemian family really is. It’s all brought to a boiling point when the staid Kirbys (Byron Jennings & Johanna Day), invited to dinner, mistakenly arrive an evening early to witness the goings on. It’s bedlam in the insane asylum!
The caricature-like Boris Kolenkhov (Reg Rogers) a supposed Russian dance teacher, drops in and out giving lessons to Essie, and winds up tackling Mr. Kirby telling him he wouldn’t have so much indigestion if he had a hobby, like wrestling; a soused actress Gay Wellington (the always hysterical Julie Halston) has been brought home by Penny to read a play, but is passed out most of the time; the live-in maid, Rheba (Crystal A. Dickinson), is always smiling and maybe that has to do with her drop in boyfriend Donald (Marc Damon Johnson) who’s been on the dole for many years but happy to act as a handyman (without pay).
It’s a frenetic vaudevillian display of lunacy by the best in the business watching the king of theater, James Earl Jones, keep his nutty brood in tow; the priceless mannerisms of Kristine Nielsen (perfected in her Tony nominated performance of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) and the small, but lavishly aristocratic part of the Russian Grand Dutchess (Elizabeth Ashley) who now works as a waitress at a Child’s restaurant. In fact all her Russian relatives who fled are slinging hash somewhere, or working as floor-walkers.
The period costumes by Jane Greenwood are delightful, along with on spot lighting design by Donald Holder, sound by Jon Weston and hair and wigs by Tom Watson. Original music is by Jason Robert Brown.
Eccentricity wins as these larger-than-life characters serve up bowls full of old fashioned Broadway laughter under the guiding hand of director Scott Ellis. Even the kitties in the opening scene are cause for oohs and aahs!
*photos: Joan Marcus
You Can’t Take It With You – 2 hours 15 minutes (1 intermission)
Longacre Theatre 220 West 48th Street Tickets: 212-239-6200 or www.telecharge.com Closes: Jan. 4, 2015
https://www.theaterpizzazz.com/cant-take-meet-cast/ (video interviews)