Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

You Can't Take It With You
is a Hoot

What a wonderful way to end my year and millennium of theatregoing by seeing the Theatre Works production of the Kaufman and Hart's 1936 Pulitzer Prize winning play You Can't Take It With You. This play first made its appearance in 1936 in New York with Henry Travers as "Grandpa". Mr. Travers will be remember as the angel in It's A Wonderful Life. In that original cast were Josephine Hall and George Tobias, who later became a staple of Warner Bros. films.

Frank Capra did a wonderful version of the play in 1938 with Lionel Barrymore playing Grandpa along with a young Jimmy Stewart and Ann Miller. Jean Arthur was also in the film.

We saw a marvelous revival of the farce at the Plymouth Theater in New York in 1983 with Jason Robards, Colleen Dewhurst, James Coco and Elizabeth Wilson. Mr. Robards was notable as Grandpa. It was later televised for Hallmark in 1984 with most of the same cast.

Theatre Works, who have produced some excellent classic comedies these past several years like Thrill of a Lifetime, Man Who Came to Dinner and Present Laughter, have done it again with this funny production. In a word, it is a hoot.

This is probably one of the original dysfunctional families of all time. Grandpa walked away from his office job some years back and never returned. He enjoys life by going to commencements at colleges in the New York area and collecting snakes. His daughter Penny spends her days writing bad plays on a typewriter that was delivered to their house by mistake. It was never returned to the owner.

Penny's husband makes fireworks in the basement with the help of an assistant who delivered ice seven years prior but forgot to leave. There is also Essie who makes candy and practices ballet to the xylophone accompaniment of her husband Ed. The husband operates a printing press out of the house and puts little notes in the boxes of candy that Essie make; notes that say "Blow Up the White House" and "Down with the government". However Grandpa says later to some G-Men, "Oh, Ed never meant any harm. He just likes to print".

There is an assortment of zany characters who come in and out of the play, such as the amusingly impetuous Russian dance instructor played by extraordinary Luis Oropeza. He is a delight every time he comes on stage. Also a Grand Duchess of Old Russia comes on the stage in the third act, played superbly by Wendy Howard Behnam. The duchess has now become a waitress at Childs on Time Square.

There is one "normal" person in the Sycamore clan and that is Alice who is a secretary at a prestigious Wall Street firm. She is played by Julie Eccles who is one of our most talented Bay Area actresses. Alice falls in love with her millionaire boss's son Tony played by the versatile Mark Phillips. Both are outstanding in their parts.

The second act is riotous when Tony brings his rich and conservative parents to the Sycamore house for a dinner party one night earlier then planned. This is a wildly entertaining evening where everything goes wrong.

One of the Bay Area's finest actors George Ward plays Grandpa. He has one of the best trained voices in the bay Area. He is as usual his charming self as the font of all of the family's quirks. The ebullient Joan Mankin plays Penny and she is hilarious as the woman who writes bad plays.

Joe Ragey's homey set looks like a Depression era middle class living and dinning area. It is appropriately dizzy thanks to props master Eric Landisman's collection of assorted fireworks, a skull candy dish, an Erector set and a xylophone. Tom Lindblades direction is taut and compact and he even adds a little dance between scene changes in the first act that is delightful.

As usual, the play has been receiving sell out crowds. It runs until January 2, 2000. Next up is the World Premier of the Russell and Krieger musical Everything's Ducky. As most of you know they were the creators of Side Show. This production runs from Jan 19 to Feb 13, 2000.

Hillary and Soon Yi Shop for Ties

The Magic Theatre has presented the pre-off Broadway production of Michele Carter's new comedy Hillary and Soon-Yi Shop for Ties in the Sam Shepard Theatre. The comedy will go to an off Broadway theater sometimes during the next year with the same two cast members.

Hillary refers to Hillary Clinton and Soon Yi refers to the current Mrs. Woody Allen. Lorri Holt, a Bay Area award winning actress, broke into the local theatrical scene working with the famous San Francisco Mime Troupe. Amy Tung also comes from the same troop and she is excellent in the role of Soon Yi.

This production is a wacky world premier and it is called "vaudeville for the new millennium." It is a contemporary satire of today's world. These two famous woman explore, tongue in cheek, how women in our society are perceived and how they perceiv themselves.

Some of the skits are hilarious while other are complete duds. I found one skit particularly offensive. That was the one with Hillary and Bill Clinton jokes. They were not clever but very crude and completely out of place in this comic review.

There is one brilliant skit in the second act involving the Greek goddess Demeter and Persephone. They play a dysfunctional mother-daughter team peeling potatoes and talking about how Persephone liked hell after being rescued. Also when Soon-Yi stands before a statue and asks to see her real dead grandmother, out - on a vine - swings Mia Farrow's mother, Maureen O'Sullivan, in a "Tarzan" outfit. Ms. Holt plays that role superbly and she does later with the role of the Virgin Mary. One of the best scenes is a glassy eyed, bourbon drunk Hillary Clinton when she first became infatuated with the future President of the United States. A beautiful scene and well played by this new amazing actress.

Amy Tung is a lovely young woman but she seemed very insecure in her role. There were several songs in the review but she does not have the voice for these songs. However she is excellent when she is discussing her Korean childhood and her marriage to Woody Allen. She does look sweet and vulnerable in her outfit of jumper, white socks and Mary Jane shoes.

I think once some of the skits are thrown out and others put in, this might be a hit off Broadway. It has been a hit here since it was extended until Sunday December 12.


- Richard Connema

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