Imagine trying to feel normal when a firework maker, a corny playwright, an enthusiastic ballet dancer and a snake lover make up half of your family. Now imagine trying to maintain this illusion of normalcy while trying to impress your boyfriend’s stuffy, all-business father.
Say hello to the Sycamores, a fictional family that begins with 10 interesting members and grows throughout “You Can’t Take It with You.”
Premiering on Broadway in 1936 and totaling 837 performances since, “You Can’t Take It with You” is now showing at Rochester’s Geva Theatre as part of the company’s 40th anniversary. A charming comedy for all ages, this play presents the audience, at full force, with an extremely awkward family situation.
Written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, “You Can’t Take It with You” follows Alice Sycamore’s struggle to make her odd family presentable for her boyfriend and his parents. A drunken actress, a Russian grand duchess and the American government are all involved in the action as well.
Robert Vaughn – a prominent actor best known for his role in The Young Philadelphians, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1959 – leads the cast as Martin Vanderhof, referred to as Grandpa throughout most of the play.
Clearly intent on not letting his age affect his performance, Vaughn acts well in a key role. His ability to assert his stage presence during speaking parts while blending into the background during the rest of the show reveal Vaughn’s vast acting experience.
The rest of the cast works hard to meet Vaughn’s standards and succeeds in doing so. Between Essie’s (Melissa Rain Anderson) flamboyant dancing, Penny’s (Brigitt Markusfeld) crude and blunt manuscript titles and Donald’s (Kim Sullivan) wild antics, there is never a dull moment.
What works exceptionally well is that each joke is refreshing. No matter how many times a joke repeats – the entire family sits down simultaneously or a Russian guest does something very un-American – the comedy is never stale. Each cast member twists the joke just enough each time to keep the audience laughing, a truly difficult skill to master.
The scene design and lighting for “You Can’t Take It with You” is aesthetically pleasing and enhances how odd the family might look to outsiders. In one corner of the family room sit a personal printing machine and homemade masks, and at the other end, a skull used as a candy dish next to a typewriter.
The lighting accentuates the moods of each scene, whether they are intimate conversations or joyous family gatherings. In addition, the director uses the space wisely; the one room never seems crowded, even with 16 actors walking about.
Directed by Mark Cuddy, “You Can’t Take It with You” shows at Geva Theatre until Oct. 5. Anyone looking for two hours of laughter should attend.