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You Can't Take It With You

Review by Tulis McCall
16 October 2014

I am so glad that I have friends like the actor/Playwright David Rhodes. It was he who pointed out to me what a risky bit of business Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman created with You Can't Take It With You.

Originally produced in 1936, with the Depression still in full swing, this is the story of a family supported by passive income, whose main goal in life was to just go along and be happy in our own sort of way. Martin Vanderhof - Grandpa - (James Earl Jones) quit his job in 1901 and decided to relax and let life come to him. When this play opened, bread lines were still part of the present, and the idea that someone could relax and let the happy days entertain them was a wild concept.

In addition to that, the entire family - his daughter Penelope (Kristine Nielsen), her husband Paul (Mark Linn-Baker), their daughter Essie (the beguiling Annaleigh Ashford) and son-in-law Ed (Will Brill) have taken up Grandpa's torch with fervor. One would never know The Great Depression was just outside the door. Penelope is lost in a land of unfinished plays because a typewriter was delivered by mistake years ago. Paul spends his hours in the basement with a member of the extended family Mr. DePinna (Patrick Kerr) cooking up fireworks. Essie is permanently attached to her toe shoes and can be found, at any time of day, physically emoting to her husband's xylophone impromptus.

There are bohemian visitors as well, like Boris Kolenkhov (Reg Rogers) and brings his guest - The Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (Elizabeth Ashley) who is a refugee working as a waitress - who is in need of a good meal. The cherry on top is Julie Halston as Gay Wellington, the actress being wooed by Penny for the play that will never be produced.

And finally - there are the two black helpers Rheba (Crystal Dickinson) and Donald (Marc Damon Johnson) - who , while they are responsible for getting the food onto the table, they are invited to sit and break bread with Grandpa and his crew. They are family, period.

Bada-bing bada-boom. All this in 1936? Reality ignored and rules broken at every turn. What appears harmless and even a little inspiring today had to have been a poke in the eye 80 years ago.

The really extraordinary part of all this is that today You Can't Take It With You still works. Grandpa's belief in letting life be the glorious gift it was meant to be - well that is all the rage these days isn't it: practicing gratitude and appreciation, focusing on what is working in your life instead of what is not with the understanding that whatever you focus on will show up even more. To drive the point home, Hart and Kaufman give us the other daughter Alice, Rose Byrne, who is intelligent enough to know that the man she loves, Tony Kirby (Fran Kranz) has parents (Johanna Day and Byron Jennings) who will never understand or accept Grandpa et al. The meeting is inevitable, and it is a doozie.

Yet it all works out in the end, doesn't it? Who can resist the endearing Mr. Jones or the open hearted Penny or the ever-so-lightly tethered Essie? It cannot be done. The comings and goings, the projects upstairs and down, the bustle of the joy cannot be staved off. As the new extended family sits down to dinner, Grandpa offers up a thanksgiving. Well, Sir, here we are again. We want to say thanks once more for everything You've done for us. Things seem to be going along fine... We've all got our health, and as far as anything else is concerned, we'll leave it to You. Thank You.

Like everything else in this production, it is a deceptively simple moment that pulls you in and makes you believe in possibility. Just the way you did long, long ago.

You Can't Take It With You is chicken soup for the heart, the soul and all the bits in between.

(Tulis McCall)

"A lot of shows can make you laugh. What's rare is a play that makes you beam from curtain to curtain. Such is the effect of Scott Ellis's felicitous revival."
Ben Brantley for New York Times

"Broadway's new production of 'You Can't Take It With You' is a time-released happy pill. Welcome side effects include laughing yourself silly during the play."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"This new revival crackles and pops, thanks to the battalion of expert zanies surrounding its solid anchor, James Earl Jones — it's like "The Expendables" of comedy."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

"Sure, it's dated and old-fashioned, but seldom do we get such an assemblage of theatrical greats plying their God-given talents all at the same time. They don't make 'em much better than this, and you can take that to the bank!"
Roma Torre for NY1

"It's been staged with such affection by director Scott Ellis, and is performed with such commitment by a very funny cast of character actors, that it's difficult not to be seduced by the charms of the loving, if wacky, Sycamore family."
Robert Feldberg for The Record

"If the Broadway revival that bowed on Sunday at the Longacre Theater brims overmuch with extra nuts, fruits and whipped cream, who can resist such sweet abundance?"
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

"This is definitely old-fashioned Broadway entertainment, but in the hands of Ellis and his fine cast, it's consistently pleasurable. "Life is kind of beautiful if you let it come to you," suggests Grandpa, and indeed, the gentle radicalism of that tenet is hard to dispute."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

"When all is said and done and gone up in the pretty smoke of 'beautiful Red Fire', the solid performances and flashy effects fail to come together as a coherent ensemble piece."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - NY1 - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - Hollywood Reporter - Variety

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