AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman
Directed by Cornelia Burdick Thompson
Presented by Palo Alto Players
Lucie Stern Theater
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA/(650) 329-0891

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Revisiting the Vanderhof household is like getting together with old friends after years apart and finding them just as delightful as ever. That's what happens in Palo Alto Players' production of the Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman chestnut, "You Can't Take It With You."

It opened on Broadway in December 1936 and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. And even though that was 76 years ago, the warm comedy's basic philosophy still rings true: Good health, happiness and family are more important than fame or fortune even in the midst of the Depression.

Hence we meet an engagingly innocent New York City family whose genial patriarch, Grandpa Vanderhof (Tom Caldecott) quit his office job some 29 years ago and never looked back. His daughter, Penny Sycamore (Debi Durst), has been blithely trying to write plays for eight years, ever since a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to the house. Her husband, Paul (John Watson), plays with an Erector Set and manufactures fireworks in the basement.

One of their daughters, Essie Carmichael (Kim Saunders, the show's choreographer), has been studying ballet for eight years without much success. Her husband, Ed (Keith Sullivan), plays the xylophone, delivers candy that he and Essie make, and prints just about anything from tonight's dinner menu (almost always corn flakes and tomatoes) to communist slogans.

The Sycamores' other daughter, Alice (Lorie Goulart), is the only seemingly normal family member. She is secretary in a Wall Street firm where she has become romantically involved with its vice president, Tony Kirby (Adam Cotugno), the boss's son.

Another member of the household is Mr. De Pinna (Ronald Feichtmeir), who showed up a few years ago, stayed for dinner and never left. He's Paul's partner in fireworks-making. The family's cook, Rheba (Rene M. Banks), also lives there. She's frequently joined by her boyfriend, Donald (Max Williams). Another frequent visitor is Essie's ballet teacher, Boris Kolenkhov (Brandon Silberstein), a fiery Russian who fled his country after the revolution.

Everyone gets along famously and has a lot of fun until one night when Tony, by now engaged to Alice, and his parents (Beverly Griffith and Ron Talbot), show up for dinner on the wrong night.

Mix in a drunken actress, Gay Wellington (Diane Tasca), brought home by Penny, and an imperious Russian duchess, Olga Katrina (Celia Maurice), a friend of Kolenkhov and now a waitress, and the differences between the two families become starkly clear. And then there are the federal agents (Clint Andrew Hall and Evan Michael Schumacher) who show up with their own agenda. Thus, Alice breaks the engagement, much to the consternation of everyone except the elder Kirbys.

As directed by Cornelia Burdick Thompson, it's all a lot of fun, but it also brings home its message about the importance of doing something you love even if you don't get rich. Running about two hours and 10 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions, the show starts slowly but soon picks up, delivering one laugh after another.

Patrick Klein's two-level living room set, lit by Rick Amerson, is appropriately cluttered with items reflecting the family's varied interests. Before the show and between acts, George Mauro's sound design features popular songs and snatches of radio programs from the '30s. The period costumes are by Mary Cravens, but Rheba's outfits seem too dressy for a cook.

Overall, this production serves the classic comedy well as Palo Alto Players continues its 82nd season.

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