Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

You Can't Take It With You Revisited

Also see Richard's reviews of The Chairs and Nightfall

The Willows Theatre Group opens their 27th season with a revival of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's 1936 Pulitzer Prize winning comedy You Can't Take It With You. This comedy satire of the original dysfunctional family group has popped up almost everywhere since it was first presented at the Booth Theatre on December 14, 1936, where it ran for 837 performances. That original cast had Henry Travers in the role of Grandpa Vanderhof with Josephine Hull taking over the role of Penelope Sycamore. My first time to see this wonderful piece was in 1965 when the revival played the Lyceum Theatre in New York with Donald Moffat in the role of Grandpa. Sidney Walker, who later became one of ACT's best actors, played Paul Sycamore, and young Rosemary Harris was Alice Sycamore. The revival ran for 239 performances. The second time I saw this very funny farce was the 1984 revival at the Plymouth Theatre with an all-star cast including Jason Roberts as Grandpa, and Elizabeth Wilson and Jack Dodson as Mr. and Mrs. Sycamore, plus some splendid cameos by Colleen Dewhurst as the Grand Duchess Olga and James Coco as Boris. The wonderful pixie Bill McCutcheon played Mr. DePinna.

Many regional companies have presented this delightful feel good comedy, including a splendid production by TheatreWorks several years ago. It seems whenever a company wants to present an upbeat, popular comedy that will appeal to the masses, they pick this Kaufman and Hart play.

Stu Klitsner (Grandpa Vanderhof), Cassidy Brown (Ed), Rami Margron (Essie) and Gary Mutz (Paul)

The Sycamore family of New York is probably the most silly family ever presented on stage. They are headed by Grandpa Vanderhof (Stu Klitsner) who walked away from his office job several years back and has never returned. He now bides his time attending college commencements and collecting snakes. He has not paid his income taxes for over 28 years, but he does not care. His daughter Penelope, or Penny, (Barbara Grant) churns out play after play on a mistakenly-delivered typewriter; however, she never completes the works. At present, she is working on a play involving a nightclub singer who goes to a monastery and stays for seven years. Now she is trying to figure out how to get the girl out of the monastery. Penny's husband Paul (Gary Mutz) and pipe smoking Mr. DePinna (Irv Siegel) manufacture fireworks in the cellar. DePinna is not a member of the family, but he delivered ice to the house seven years prior and has never left the premises. (You get the idea on how screwball this comedy becomes).

Daughter Essie (Rami Margron) has been taking ballet lessons in the living room under a Russian bear of a teacher named Boris (John Langdon) for seven years. He says her dancing "stinks." Essie's husband Ed (Cassidy Brown) plays a xylophone to accompany her dancing, and he also distributes left-wing propaganda in homemade candy to clients in the neighborhood. The only 'normal' person is the other Sycamore daughter, Alice (Lianne Marie Dobbs), who is engaged to her boss's son Tony Kirby (Brent Rosenbaum). Rounding out the zany cast of characters are the straight-laced parents of Tony (Carl Spiegelberg and Evie tenPas); Maid Rheba (Bernadette Quattrone); her boy friend Donald (Michael Barr), who loves the government because he can work nights at the post office; and the Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (Linda Hellman), who works as a waitress at one of the better Child's restaurants on Time Square. Also showing up in the second act is a drunken actress named Gay (Candy Campbell). She is "out" most of the time. You put all of these characters in the three act play and you have the screwiest people on the American stage.

Grandpa loves his family and his friends and, as he says of their shenanigans, "Why not do what you want to do? After all, you can't take it with you." These people get into a lot of tomfoolery involving the Kirbys, the government, G-Men, fireworks going off at all times and just plain wacky situations. All of the goings on in the three acts lead to a wonderful jovial night.

The complete cast, from minor parts to the main characters, are brilliant. Especially marvelous are Stu Klitsner as Grandpa and Barbara Grant as Penny. Mr. Klitsner captures the essence of the man who wants everyone to be their own person, while Ms. Grant is mirthful while describing her various unfinished plays. Lianne Marie Dobbs is cute and does an excellent portrayal of the 'normal' daughter, and Brent Rosenbaum as Tony makes a very handsome romantic idol. He is an excellent actor who trained at the Lee Strasberg Institute and Atlantic Theatre Company in New York. Linda Hellman makes a spectacular entrance as the Grand Duchess who loves to make blintzes in the last act. This is a showy role and she is excellent in the part. Gary Mutz gives an understated performance as Paul Sycamore, and Irv Siegel is marvelous as Mr. DePinna. It is fun to watch this character work as he goes into the basement with a lighted pipe to make fireworks. He also looks wild when he wears a Grecian gown in the second act.

Set design by Jean-Francois Revon plays a huge part in this comedy. It is an "explosion-prone set" and a star attraction of the show. Director Richard Elliott has done a super job of direction, keeping the timing of the actors right on the mark. Everything works like clockwork. Lighting design by Chris Guptill and costumes by Loran Watkins are very good. The farce gets the Willows' 27th season off to a good start.

You Can't Take It With You plays thru March 2nd. The theater is located at 1975 Diamond Ave, in the Willows Shopping Center in Concord. Tickets can be obtained by calling 925-798-1300 or visiting The Willows' next production will be the musical Man of La Mancha which opens on March 17th.

Photo: Judy Potter

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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