Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

You Can't Take It With You
The Adobe Theater
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Dean's recent review of Goblin Market


Jim Duran, Fred Schwab, and Heather Lovick-Tolley
Photo by George A. Williams
It's surprising that You Can't Take It With You is still so popular, since comedy doesn't usually age well. According to the Adobe Theater program, 17 other productions of this play are opening around the country on the same weekend as the Adobe's, so it's obvious that this 1936 Kaufman and Hart play is still going strong after 80 years (there was a 2014 Broadway revival, featuring James Earl Jones). Talk about a golden goose. The amazing thing is that, except for a few references specific to its era, it sounds like it could have been written right now.

The play's message, that money doesn't bring happiness, is as old as the King Midas story. The plot pits the eccentric Vanderhof/Sycamore family against the Wall Street plutocrat Kirby family. Grandpa Vanderhof used to work in New York City, but one day realized he hated his job, so he just up and quit. Nobody in his extended family has a steady job now except for Alice, the "normal" granddaughter. The rest simply do what makes them happy, like writing plays that never get produced, studying ballet for eight years, making fireworks in the basement, etc. Mr. Kirby, on the other hand, is a Wall Street banker so rich that he can spend $10,000 on growing one pot of orchids. Kirby's son Tony and Alice are in love and want to get married, but can a couple from such different families ever make it work? What do you think? It's a comedy, after all.

The gist of the play is the speech that Grandpa delivers to Mr. Kirby near the end. If your job is not making you happy, just give it up. Life is too short to get an ulcer because you're tied up in knots all the time. Just relax, do what makes you happy. Sure, it sounds like good advice, but it's a little too simplistic, isn't it? The reason that everybody in Grandpa's house can sit around all day doing whatever they want to do is because Grandpa has investment income of three to four thousand dollars a year (that he never has paid income tax on). That was enough for a family to live reasonably comfortably back then—they even have a maid. But what about all the people during the Depression (and at any time) who don't have a steady income stream? Can they just quit their jobs and relax all day? Especially if people who do have money coming in refuse to pay taxes on it? Oh well, I think I'm taking this play too seriously.

Most of the comedy comes from the quirkiness of the Sycamore clan. Quirkiness can cloy quite quickly, but Kaufman and Hart, and director Marty Epstein, are good at avoiding sappiness and preciousness. The dialogue was well-written in 1936 and still sounds good today.

Marty did a great job directing the other Kaufman-Hart hit, The Man Who Came to Dinner, at the Vortex Theatre two years ago, and he repeats his good work here. Everything moves fluidly, and none of the comedy is overplayed. The set by Casey Mraz, props by Wynema Gonzagowski and Kathleen Welker, and costumes by Carolyn Hogan and Kip Caswell are all period-appropriate and excellent.

The cast of 18 is uniformly good, but a few performers stand out for various reasons (and some roles are showier than others). Fred Schwab delivers his big speech very well as Grandpa, Mike Van Ryzin counters Grandpa effectively as Mr. Kirby, Kristine Cornils looks perfectly upper-crust as Mrs. Kirby, Maureen Conheady-Trujillo is totally natural as the maid Rheba, Holly Deuel Gilster sports a fun and convincing accent as the Grand Duchess Olga, and new-to-Albuquerque Tim Crofton is over-the-top in a good way as Boris Kolenkhov, the Russian emigré ballet teacher. But, really, it's an ensemble show, and everyone deserves applause.

I have seen comedies that made me laugh more, but a lot of that is topical humor, and those plays are not likely to have the longevity of You Can't Take It With You. If you want to see a comedy that really has legs, get yourself over to the Adobe Theater.

You Can't Take It With You, directed by Marty Epstein, is being performed at the Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth St NW in Albuquerque (a couple blocks north of Alameda), through November 20, 2016. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets $14 to $17. Info at www.adobetheater.org or 505-898-9222.


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