You Can’t Take It With You at the Jungle Theater

Angela Timberman and John Middleton in You Can't Take It With You.  Photo by Kari Pickett.

Angela Timberman and John Middleton in You Can’t Take It With You. Photo by Keri Pickett.

Were I a finger-wagging, dyspeptic, world-weary and jaundiced Critic, I might take George S. Kaufmann and Moss Hart, authors of You Can’t Take It With You (at the Jungle, through August 9) to task for blatantly predictable manipulation. Why can’t our hero Alice Sycamore say to her moneyed gentleman caller, Tony Kirby, “This is my family. They’re weird – really weird – but I love them and so, if you love me, will you.” Why does she feel the need to protect him? Is she ashamed of these wonderful dingbats? Why is she so shallow? And, now that Monsieur le Critic is at it, how does Grandpa, the non-taxpaying, ungainfully employed, fun-having, family-loving pater familius manage to maintain a large house, filled with crazies, on exclusive Claremont Avenue in New York City?

Belch belch, scribble scribble. Stop asking these upsetting questions. Go sit in the corner. Thank you.

The plain fact is, You Can’t Take It With You is fabulous fun. The large Vanderhoff manse is created in all its splendor: the large center stage dinner table, the xylophone nook, the scary basement where fireworks are tested (and why the house hasn’t been, as a result, reduced to ashes eludes me), the playwright’s corner piled with mss, the busy staircase, the foyer where one coming in must always – always – make an entrance. Here, eccentricity is celebrated. And into this maison de folie Alice, the only sane Sycamore, timorously brings her beau Tony.

Settist Tom Butsch has created a large Oddball Central on the small jewelbox Jungle stage. I spent the whole play – and You Can’t Take It With You is long, almost three hours – exploring its many (and lovely) crannies and nooks. Lighter Don Narnutzer, costumist Amelia Cheever, sounder Montana Johnson and wiggist Laura Adams have done terrific work as well. Thanks to them, You Can’t Take It With You is, as they say, very easy on the eyes.

And the acting! The play’s cast is, by contemporary standards, huge. Too many to count. That they are also, to a person, terrific is due in part to director Gary Gisselman‘s skill; he moves the actors around the set effortlessly and tastefully and keeps the characters’ myriad eccentricities from overwhelming the action.

But the actors get most of the credit for their wonderfulness; these artists thrill. Anna Sundberg plays Alice with sly intelligence, deftly walking the line between her enduring love for her family and her new love for her new boyfriend. The latter character is played by Hugh Kennedy; we really feel his buttoned down buttons pop as his love for Alice, and his feeling for her family, grow. Wendy Lehr is a hoot as blintz-making/table waiting Grand Duchess Olga Katrina and Allen Hamilton will blow back your hair as the mad Russian dance teacher. A little one dimensional? Maybe, but who cares; he’s great fun and I couldn’t peel my eyes off him. The Fullers, Nathaniel and Cathleen, excel as the uptight Kirbys and Mr. Kirby’s come-to-Jesus scene, while it strains credulity (fully as a result the writing, imo) is still effective, thanks to Nathaniel. I’ve seen Max Wojtanowicz in a few roles, but in You Can’t Take It With You, as the tall xylophone-playing Ed Carmichael, he takes. Wojtanowicz is an actor of great style and I look forward to seeing him down the theatrical line. There is the goofy Angela Timberman, the lean and utterly mad John Middleton, the drunken Charity Jones, I’m running out of space.

And of course, presiding over this madness, Grandpa, played with quiet and smiling fervor by the great Raye Birk.

Recommended — as long as you leave the Critic at home.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, has just been published by Familius, Inc. For more info please visit www.johnolive.net.

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