You may think you have a firm grip on the quirky family comedy genre. You may have even seen the staged or filmed version of “You Can’t Take it With You” (written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart) before. But I promise that you haven’t seen anything quite like the production currently being presented by Lewiston’s Theatre in the Mist. TITM takes the screwy, oddball chaos of the well-known Sycamore clan and really cranks it up to 11.
. . .funny, zany, and chaotic . . .
“You Can’t Take it With You” isn’t so much about plot and storyline as it is the bizarre, never-resting ecosystem of the Sycamore house. The Sycamores (technically the Vanderhof-Sycamore-Carmichaels) are the zaniest, most eclectic bunch of folks you’re likely to ever meet. Martin Vanderhof (Joe Sciammarella), the patriarch usually referred to simply as “Grandpa”, is a tax-dodging old kook who raises snakes. Penny Sycamore (Kathleen Recchione) is an aspiring painter and playwright, who happens to be terrible at both. Eddie Carmichael (Karissa Allen) plays the xylophone and loves to print any and everything, include the family’s nightly dinner menu. Her wife Essie (Samantha Scheffler-Ploetz) is a novice ballerina and candy-maker. Even Mr. De Pinna (Robert Janusz), who’s not technically a member of the family, practically lives in the basement as he tinkers away at fireworks and modeling for Penelope’s paintings. You get the picture.
The only normal one in the bunch is Alice Sycamore (Taylor Tedesco), a typist who wants to bring Tony Kirby (Peter Andres)—the young VP of her company whom she’s recently started dating, and his parents (Tracey Pici and John Addison)—home to meet the family. Tony “accidentally” brings them over for dinner a night too early and all hell breaks loose as the polished socialites clash with the chaos and disorder of the Sycamore clan.
The most most refreshing aspect of TITM’s production is that director Anne Kurtis made bold, brave choices, and bold choices aren’t something you normally associate with the old chestnuts of the American theatre cannon like YCTIWY, many of which are done ad nauseam by high school drama clubs and community theatre groups and most of which are pretty tired and stale.
Kurtis chose to put her production in a modern(ish) setting, rather than the 1930’s of the original play, as well as use a female actor for Eddie Carmichael. Similarly, TITM’s Mr. Kolenkov is Ms. Kolenkov, played by the quite-funny Sarah Comfort (especially her helicopter spin on Mr. Kirby, which had the audience in tears). Probably the biggest standout among Kurtis’ many out-of-the-box production choices is her use of a puppet and ventriloquist to play one of the tax collectors who comes looking for Grandpa in Act I. There’s no discernible logic behind this choice, but I—and the audience—really enjoyed it, and for whatever unbeknownst reason it really landed well. Just roll with it!
Now, like any production that makes a lot of audacious choices, not all of this production’s choices totally work. As Kurtis alludes to in her director’s notes, the time period of this play is so ingrained into the fabric of the story that picking it up and dropping it 80 (or so) years into the future is a bit of a head-scratcher. Apart from the frequent period-specific references to Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and other bits of 1930’s pop culture, the politics of of YCTIWY are so tied to the post-depression/pre-WWII era that it’s discombobulating to try and surgically graft them onto a modern 2000’s-era family. Economics, money, and communism are extremely overt throughout the play, as are Stalin, Trotsky, and Cossacks, and seeing them discussed at-length by a tattooed grandpa in a Hawaiian shirt and Nikes feels disjointed at best and confusing at worst.
That all said, TITM’s production is just as funny, zany, and chaotic as the more traditional renditions, and while not all of the original spin of this production neatly came to fruition, it’s easily forgivable because the choices that did work really punched-up the comedy and breathed some fresh air into a show that many theatre-goers have seen one-too-many times. In essence: I—and I suspect most— would rather see risks be taken that don’t work 100% of the time than see safe, cardboard productions. TITM’s production—while not perfect—is fun, wildly unique and anything but cardboard.
Running Time: 2 Hours with one-15 minute intermission.
TITM’s “You Can’t Take it With You” is playing at Stella Niagara school in Lewiston until April 7th. For Tickets and more information, click here.