You Can’t Take It with You

Due to scheduling conflicts at home, SCERA has had to take its latest production on the road. Fittingly, “You Can’t Take It with You” resembles nothing else so much as a Road Show ‹ some bright performances, some amateurish ones, a few laughs and a lot of smiles. (If only there were refreshments…!)

The 1936 George S. Kaufman/Moss Hart play, directed by Jan Shelton, has survived the passage of time better than many of its contemporaries. Only a few passing references (and its vaudevillian set-up/punchline dialogue) confine it to a particular time period, and it is, I suspect as funny now as it ever was.

It focuses on the Sycamore family, composed of a dozen or so free spirits, artists and harmless wackos, some of whom are not related but live in the house anyway. The patriarch, Grandpa (Joel Osborne), quit business 35 years ago so that he could enjoy a life of doing nothing. His daughter, Penny (Tracy Whitlock), is mostly a playwright but occasionally a painter. Her husband Paul (Jason Evans) makes fireworks in the basement with an Italian guy (Josh Tenney); their daughter Essie (Melissa Aaron) wants to dance ballet; Essie’s husband Ed (Chad Taylor) likes to print things and play the xylophone.

It is important to note that none of these people is very good at his or her chosen vocation, but they persist in it because it’s fun.

Penny and Paul’s other daughter is Alice (Heidi Boyd), the only normal one in the house. (One gets a sense of how Marilyn Munster must have felt.) At the time of the play, she is about to be engaged to wealthy Tony Kirby (Jeff Taylor), who she is certain will not understand or approve of her bizarre family. Tony’s uptight parents (Robert Gibbons, Laurel Barham) meet the carefree Sycamores; and so on.

Tracy Whitlock is very fun as Penny, flitting around with constant scatterbrained energy. As Grandpa, Joel Osborne is a fantastic, sparkle-eyed coot; you want him to be YOUR grandfather. (I mean no offense toward my biological grandfathers.)

And let us speak for a moment about the lovely and talented Heidi Boyd. She plays Alice with such grace and aplomb that the audience immediately sympathizes with her plight. The actress seems to believe every word her character utters, which grounds the daft play in reality.

Speaking of which, Andy Hunsaker has a smaller role as the bearish Russian dance instructor Kolenkhov, but his performance is instructive: He is playing a larger-than-life character in a way that is still believable (and with believable comes funny). There is more to playing an eccentric character than saying each line broadly and with wide eyes.

No one will mistake this for a professional production. It is rough around the edges, and professional productions don’t cast 45-year-old characters with actors in their early 20s. But as light, community-theater entertainment, it passes the test and offers a gently amusing night out.

Should you go? Sure, why not? It’s sunny and harmless.

This play was my first high school acting experience. I played Ed, who plays the xylophone, except we couldn't find a xylophone, so I was Ed who plays the piano. We did only the first scene, as part of an evening student-directed one-acts. The SCERA production was the first time I'd seen the show since then, and the first time I'd seen it in its entirety live. (I saw a taped version of the Broadway revival with Jason Robards once.)

The reason for the move to the Valentine Theatre was that the SCERA suddenly found out it was getting "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" in its big theater. This meant moving "Spider-Man" to the smaller theater, which is where "You Can't Take It with You" was supposed to be performed.