Review: You Can't Take It With You

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Timeless.

The word gets thrown about like confetti these days, being used to describe everything from diamonds to overpriced skin care products.

But that’s the best word to describe You Can’t Take It With You, the Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy that opened at TheatreWorks last weekend. While most plays from its era are forgotten now, the humor in this play still works, the story still sings.

And typically, that's its biggest problem. A longtime favorite of high school and community theaters alike, You Can't Take It With You has been seen so often and by so many people it’s easy to forget how radical its message of individuality was when it debuted in 1937. (See our preview of the play here.)

Tony (Sean Scrutchins) gives Alice (Jamie Ann Romero) an offer she cant refuse
  • GEOFFREY KENT
  • Tony (Sean Scrutchins) gives Alice (Jamie Ann Romero) an offer she can't refuse

Thankfully, it's not a problem here. By mining George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s witty dialogue for new meaning, Denver-based director Geoffrey Kent makes this production not just timeless, but timely.

It all takes place in the main room of the Sycamore house, which in David M. Barber's design is so warm and inviting you’ll wish you could move in. And for a time, you do. One of the brilliant touches to the design is that the entrance to the home is built right into the entrance to the theater. To get to your seat, you have to step through the foyer of the house.

This made it a little confusing when early in the first act, a pair of latecomers made a rather dramatic entrance of their own. But there's no denying that this layout pulls you right in, making the story your story too.

It’s here where the members of the wildly eccentric Sycamore family pursue their passions. Mother (a charmingly scatter-brained Gabriella Cavallero) is writing several plays, some religious, some brimming with sex. Daughter Essie (a comically gawky Missy Moore) pirouettes around the house in a pink tutu. Father (the always dependable Tom Paradise) manufactures firecrackers in the basement. And Grandpa (an infinitely likable Ken Street), having dropped out of society after adopting the identity of their deceased mailman, now spends his days attending high school commencements for fun.

“The world’s not so crazy,” Grandpa says. “Just the people in it.”

Into this chaos enters younger daughter Alice. Played by the extremely versatile Jamie Ann Romero (you may remember her heartbreaking performance as Nina in TheatreWorks' production of The Seagull), she's the only "normal" one in the family. At least, she's the only one with a job.

She's been dating her handsome young boss Tony (the impossibly suave Sean Scrutchins), and now she believes he's on the verge of proposing.

The only problem? Tony insists on bringing his terminally strait-laced parents for dinner, and Alice knows their relationship will never survive the fireworks (both literal and figurative) that are sure to come.

Just another typical day at the Sycamore house

It’s a setup that has launched a thousand sitcom episodes. But here it takes on a depth that's really quite surprising for such a lighthearted play. It's not just a conflict of personalities. Instead, it strikes to the very heart of how we choose to live our lives.

There are so many wonderful performances in this production, it would be impossible to describe them all. But I’ll highlight three more.

Logan Ernstthal steals every scene he’s in as the booming-voiced Russian who’s supposed to teach Essie how to dance but spends most of his time dispensing unasked-for — and hilariously mangled — advice to the other members of the family. And that black broom-head of a beard he's got is so impressive it should get its own credit in the program.

Bruce Carter turns prudishness into a high art form as the stone-faced father of Tony.

And I can't forget Ashley Crockett, who makes an all-too-brief appearance as a hammy, washed-up drunk of an actress (see figure on couch above).

If you’re wondering how all this insanity fits into the holiday season, don’t worry. In the end, one character makes a transformation as far-reaching as any made by George Bailey or Ebenezer Scrooge.

The difference? This one’s a whole lot funnier.

You Can't Take It With You
Through December 23, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday matinees, 2 p.m.; Sunday matinees 4 p.m. TheatreWorks, Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle. Tickets, $8-$35, free for UCCS students. Call TheatreWorks at 255-3232 or visit theatreworkscs.org for more.

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