You Can’t Take It with You in Elm Grove
Kaufman and Hart's 1936 stage play You Can't Take It with You continues to be poignant and appealing as the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove opens its production this month. It's a big ensemble comedy about a family fortunate enough to be able to pursue happiness in some pretty diverse places.
Hal Erickson is charming and jovial in the role of the family patriarch everyone knows as, "Grandpa." Fully retired with plenty of time to himself, he takes great joy in attending college commencements. His son makes fireworks in the basement. His son's wife writes screenplays that might never get finished. The ensemble gets more eclectic from there. There is an aspiring ballet dancer and her Russian teacher. A man who is perfecting the arts of both xylophone and printing press. A drunken actress shows-up. As does a surly gentleman from the IRS. There's a lot of action. It all makes sense in context.
Kaufman and Hart weave together a script that can be very difficult to stage. There's a lot of crazy, anarchic comedy energy flowing through the scenes that still needs to seem somehow grounded in reality in order for it to be effective. If everything gets out of hand, it just looks kind of confusing and abstract on stage. Director Brian Zelinski does a pretty good job of juggling all of the action with the ensemble. There may be moments that don't exactly feel like they're coming together or falling apart as intended. Zelinski manages to foster an environment in the comic rhythm carries the action along even when the ensemble seems to be faltering a bit.
There are a lot of fun performances around the edges of the ensemble. Of particular note is an astutely empathic Deanna Strasse as Alice Sycamore: a relatively sane member of the family who is reluctant to invite her boyfriend/fiancee into her home to meet everyone. Also of note is Cohl Carter-Wright as the handyman Donald. Wright cleverly blends a little nonchalant craziness into the background of the production. A simple bit of humor with a squeezebox is quite charming in the hands of Wright. There are a number of other isolated moments throughout the script that sparkle at times. As always, this trip to visit a strangely socially liberated family in the 1930s continues to be enjoyable.
Sunset Playhouse’s production of You Can’t Take it With You runs through Feb. 4 at the Sunset Playhouse’s Furlan Auditorium. For more information, visit the Sunset Playhouse online.