This seems to be a good time for the revival of 1930s-era comedies, with recent local productions of "Arsenic and Old Lace' and now 'You Can't Take It With You' at Haddon Township’s Ritz. Theatre. This play by George S. Kauffman and Moss Hart, leading playwrights of their time, was a great success from the time it opened. It won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and a movie version starring Lionel Barrymore and James Stewart won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. It still enjoys frequent revivals on both professional and nonprofessional stages. Today it might be called a “screwball comedy.”
Director Craig Hutchings introduces us to an engaging family of characters. Grandpa Vanderhof, the family patriarch, decided one day in an elevator on his way to work that he didn’t want to work any more. He rode the elevator back down and never returned, deciding to do whatever he wanted to do, including keeping pet snakes and not paying income tax. His family, with one exception, has followed his example, and all seem to be happy. His daughter, Penelope (Penny) Sycamore, writes plays simply because a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to the house. Her husband, Paul Sycamore, makes fireworks in the basement, aided by Mr. De Pinna, an iceman who came to stay. The Sycamores’ daughter, Essie, makes candies and dreams of being a ballerina despite an obvious lack of talent. She is married to Ed Carmichael, who plays the xylophone (not very well) and prints “catchy” slogans, which he distributes in Essie’s candy boxes.
The one “normal” exception is the Sycamores’ other daughter, Alice, who works in an office. But she is about to turn the household upside down by announcing that she is in love with her boss’s son, Tony Kirby, who is coming to take her out on a date that night. It is obvious that both are thinking about marriage, but Alice is afraid that Tony’s parents would never approve of her family. However, she invites them to dinner—with disastrous results. Not only is it the wrong night for the dinner party, but matters are complicated by Gay Wellington, a drunken actress who has come to read for one of Penny’s plays but passes out on the sofa, and Kolenkhov, Essie’s eccentric Russian ballet teacher. When it seems that things can’t get any worse, federal agents show up. Not only have they caught up with Grandpa’s refusal to pay income tax, but they want to know about the “subversive messages” Ed has been putting in the candy boxes, as well as the gunpowder in the basement. The dinner party literally ends with a bang. But the evening isn’t over—wait until you see what happens next.
The cast is made up mostly of newcomers to the Ritz, but there are two long-time veterans of that theatre: Arthur Tennyson-Thompson, hilarious as Mr. DePinna, and Michael (“Mikey “) Bracken, who does a superb job as Mr. Kirby, father of the prospective bridegroom. The entire cast is excellent, but too numerous for all to be mentioned. Standouts include Seymour Kover as Grandpa, Janet Wasser as Penny, Rachel Brodeur as Essie, Maggie Griffin-Smith as Alice, Richard Chan as Tony, Mike Monroe as Kolenkhov, and Nicalia Thompson and Jordan Dobson as the maid, Rheba, and her boyfriend, Donald. Great cameos are provided by Kristin Foreman as Gay Wellington and Tanya Lazar as Grand Duchess Olga Katrina, who escaped the Russian Revolution and now works as a waitress (she’s also an excellent cook).
One final comment on the play itself: has anyone in the audience ever wondered how the Vanderhof-Sycamore-Carmichael clan has managed to survive during the Depression with only one member who is working? They even have a maid. Certainly, you can’t take it with you, but you need some of it while you’re here. However, the play wasn’t written to provoke serious thought, except perhaps to contrast the happy family with the unhappy Kirbys. Its main purpose is to make us laugh and have fun, and that it most surely does.
The show runs until March 23. For tickets and further information, contact the Ritz Theatre, 915 White Horse Pike, Haddon Township, NJ 08107, 856-858-5230, www.ritztheatreco.org.