West Coast Florida
You Can't Take it With You
Also see Bill's review of The Best of Enemies
Asolo Repertory Theater scores a bullseye with George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's You Can't Take it With You, brilliantly directed by Peter Amster. This is the play that won Kaufman one of his two Pulitzer Prizes (Of Thee I Sing, with a score by George and Ira Gershwin was the other).
The play's style is firmly rooted in the 1930s and, in order to make a strong impression some 75 years later, it is necessary to impart that snappy, smart period rhythm to the actorsthis the director has done spectacularly well. Every member of the 19-person cast moves with the flair seen in movies of the period. Amster also keeps his traffic flowing smoothly, not an easy task with such a large cast coming and going. There are the requisite near misses, but stage movement and business is handled with the brilliance of a Marx Brothers movie. In this he is assisted by a brilliant set by Jeffery W. Dean, a re-creation of the one used for a previous production of this play in 1985. Its excellence was attested to by a scattering of applause as the curtain rose on act one. It tells the audience a great deal of what they need to know about the family in residence, The Sycamoresthat they had once been gentile and now their best days, financially, are a bit behind them.
The cast, including a number of third year students from the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training (many in key roles), is uniformly excellent, completely inhabiting these quirky characters. Frank Capra made a starry movie of this material, with Lionel Barrymore, Spring Byington, Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart and other stalwart supporting players of the period, but the current cast owes nothing to their famous forebears. David S. Howard, returning to the Asolo Mainstage after an absence of several year (how dare he think he can retire?) shines as patriarch of the family, Martin Vanderhof. Martin walked out on Wall Street 35 years previous so he could start enjoying life. Howard brings out the zest for life this man must have, along with zaniness and a dose of wisdom picked up along the way. Peggy Roeder as daughter Penny, author of many plays in progress because a typewriter was once mistakenly delivered to their home, is warm and eccentric. Her husband Paul, fireworks entrepreneur extraordinaire, is played by company favorite David Breitbarth. He is often cast as the dominant male, as he is here, and is able to bring a great deal of nuance because of the excellence of the writing.
Also inhabiting the family manse are Penny and Paul's daughter Essie and her husband Ed Carmichael. They are wonderfully played by Lindsay Tornquist and Joseph McGranaghan. He is at his uproarious best playing xylophone badly while she dances around the home en pointe. The calm in the midst of all the craziness is the other daughter Alice, working for a banker and in love with the boss's son Tony Kirby. Played by Brittany Proia and Brendan Ragan, they project the love the characters feel for each other as well as their respective families. Douglas Jones as Mr. Kirby gives a comic gem of a performance bringing out every bit of the man's imperiousness, alongside Gail Rastorfer, excellent as Mrs. Kirby. Eric Hissom as Essie's ballet teacher Kolenkov, Francisco Rodriguez as Mr. DePinna, and Kelly Campbell as drunken guest Gay Wellington all add much to the merriment. A special tip of the hat to Jesse Dornan in the usually thankless role of IRS agent Wilbur C. Henderson. When he warns Martin that the US government will collect the taxes owed to them, he is threatening but much more than a caricature, and when Martin finally frustrates him beyond endurance, his physical collapse is funny but real. Last, and never ever least, is one of my favorites, Carolyn Michel as Grand Duchess Olga Katrina, formally of Russia, who appears midway through the second act as an honored guest and ends up making a huge platter of blintzes. Ms. Michal has made a career of playing daffy ladies, she wears this role like one of the gloves she removes so she can cook dinner. She is assisted by a perfect costume: long sleek dress, tiara and the gloves. She looks like a million bucks after it has been in circulation for a while. When she tells us that Rasputin was everything he was rumored to be, she stops the show in its tracks for a few seconds.
All of these characters have a deep abiding love for each other and serve to keep each other from spinning completely out of their dizzy orbits. The play has been the model for many of the greatest television situation comedies, those with a deep emotional core. While the cast is performing this period piece, the men are rehearsing David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross and will perform the two plays in repertory.
Costume design by Virgil C. Johnson is another very strong element. Mention was made above of the fabulous outfit for the Grand Duchess, but all of the costumes are spot on, completely perfect for the characters and the time period. All of the technical aspects of this production are completely in harmony with director Peter Amster's vision.
You Can't Take it With You is the latest in a series of terrific productions of plays requiring strong directorial hand and a great sense of style, such as The Perfume Shop, Fallen Angels, and Once in a Lifetime. Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards has been able to attract a group of great directors, Peter Amster, Frank Galati and Mark Ruker and others, to deliver these productions.
Asolo Repertory Theater presents You Can't Take it With You in repertory through April 20, 2013, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail. Sarasota, Florida. Box Office (941) 351-8000. For more information visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast (in order of appearance)
Direction: Peter Amster