Tuesday, June 12, 2007

PLAY: "You Can't Take It With You"

Photo/Rod Goodman

Everybody in the popular Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman comic staple, You Can't Take It With You, has big dreams, bigger hearts, and even bigger personalities. T. Schreiber Studio, has brought this classic period piece back, but it seems as half-hearted a hobby as that of the entire Sycamore clan. Director Peter Jensen means well: his second act even manages to spark some life into the show. But the rest of the piece only succeeds in putting a lot of balls in the air at once: so many, in fact, that it becomes hard to care about any of them.

Jacqueline van Biene, who plays the romantic (and embarrassed) Alice, is an exception to the rule, and those in her direct sphere of influence, like Peter Judd (as a savvy and wry "Grandpa") and Josh Sienkiewicz (as Alice's love interest, the well-mannered Tony Kirby) come across looking much better for her company. Some of the cast, like the vocally overactive Margot Bercy (as Penny) to the physically overactive Jamie Neumann (as Essie) are talented actors, but misdirected into a constant state of excitement, while others, like Jerry Rago (Paul) waddle through their scenes without any emotion, as if trying to balance out the crazy. And then there are actors like Laurence Cantor who get lost in the crazed Russian stereotype (as Boris Kolenkhov) or find themselves channeling comedians like George Carlin, as with John Mulcahy (as Mr. De Pinna). Such classical humor requires meticulous rhythm, not just soul, and the result is the worst of freestyle jazz: lively but bland.

The play has aged pretty well, for a '30s hit, although some of the jokes that were funny then are funny now in a more sardonic way. The lack of control and cohesion for the comedy, however, are what give this away as a knock-off. Jill Bianchini plays Olga like a female Borat, and Jim Cyborowski plays Mr. Kirby as a stricter version of Boy Meets World's Mr. Feeny. These caricatures, once original, are now drowned in a double-dose of culture shock: that delivered by the actors, and that of the audiences trying to process the mad-cap antics.

You Can't Take It With You is a pretty ambitious play to pull off, but that's not an excuse for its sloppiness. All that was cute and charming about the story now seems tarnished and satired, and rather than cheering for the love of dysfunction, there's now more chuckling at pathos. Happiness, once measured in humor, is now drowned in cheap jokes, and while there's parts of this show I treasure, I don't want to take it with me.

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