by Lynn Geyer
Lakewood Playhouse has the knack of taking an old chestnut and mounting to the enjoyment of the audience — especially when that old chestnut has been roasted to perfection by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.
The Playhouse succeeded last year with the prolific team’s “Once in a Lifetime” and they have done it again with the current production “You Can’t Take It With You.”
This look into the lives of the zany Sycamore family is one of the playwrights’ most beloved plays. Although the team was together for only 10 years, their gift to comedy theatre is insurmountable. In fact, Kaufman and Hart pretty much ruled Broadway comedy from 1930 to 1940.
“You Can’t Take It With You” is the simple story of… no, it’s really rather complex, in a simple sort of way. It’s a love story. Yes, a love story, but not so much in the usual way, although there’s that, too. In reality, it’s a story about a man and his family teaching just about everybody’s family how to be in love with life!
The formula to attain love of life seems so… yes, simple: just do what you want!
Somehow, this actually seemed an attainable goal in the less complicated world of 1936 — and that goal seemed still attainable to the Lakewood Playhouse preview night audience in 2010!
Martin Vanderhoff is the head of the family. He decided some years earlier that he was tired of going to work every day and just quit. Now he spends his days attending commencement exercises from any school offering one and collecting people.
In the meantime, his daughter, Penny Sycamore, pounds at a misdirected typewriter, jumping from one never completed play to another while her husband is in the basement concocting fireworks with a man who came to dinner and stayed to help and her older daughter continues with unsuccessful years of ballet lessons given by a preposterous Russian teacher while her erstwhile son-in-law looks on.
And this is just part of the story!
Needless to say, director/set designer James Venturini has done a splendid job of keeping the chaos organized and the comedy jumping so that the audience laughs its way through the three-act show not even aware of the time passage.
Diane Runkel gives the actors very authentic costumes to add to the pre-war era and Marcus Walker and Alex Smith enhance the feeling with their lighting design.
The actors are well chosen by Venturini. Molly Callender is the family maid Rheba and Jack House is her boy friend Donald. Each has their sparkling moments on stage as does Demetrick Louis as Wilbur Henderson, the IRS man (yes, IRS). Marie Tjernlund is Mrs. Kirby, the boss’ wife; she is dutifully prim and proper — most of the time.
Michael Osier is boss-man Mr. Kirby; Osier gives one of his better performances as the sometimes stern, sometimes wistful Kirby giving into a youthful memory.
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Jane McKittrick is Penny Sycamore, our would-be playwright/painter. McKittrick does a fine job of playing the somewhat flighty lady with so much on her mind she can’t be bothered with trouble or problems. Chris Gilbert is her husband Paul Sycamore, the basement chemist who stirs up fireworks with the help of Russ Coffey as Mr. DePinna, his aide in concocting; both do very nice jobs with their characters, adding to the comical scenes.
Kat Christensen is the younger daughter Alice Sycamore and Joe Kelly is Tony Kirby the man she loves. Christensen is charming as the “normal” member of the family desperately trying to sweep her family under the carpet and Kelly is very good as the vacuum trying to suck them out.
Michael Griswold is Martin Vanderhoff, the patriarch of the family; Griswold is wonderful as the advice-giving sage.
Nicole Lockett doubles in brass to play Gay Wellington, the drunken actress and The Grand Duchess Olga Katrina. Lockett does such a good job on both characters, if you didn’t know it, you’d think there were two different women playing them.
Blake York is Ed Carmichael, the complacent son-n-law of the family. York shifts from one idea to another with swift alacrity in slow motion giving his character comical excellence. Michael Dresdner is Boris Kolenkhov, the displaced Russian ballet teacher. Dresdner, like York, underplays his role superbly.
Katy Shockman plays the dancing daughter Essie Carmichael. In a word, Shockman is a comedic queen! The audience loves her. Her actions are funny; her line-delivery is perfect; she shines whenever she enters the stage.
Others in the cast are Mark Peterson, Cal Beekman and Diven Smith as G-Men (yes, G-Men).
“You Can’t Take It With You” continues at the Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, behind the Pierce Transit Depot through February 28 each Friday and Saturday evening at 8 and Sunday matinees at 2 with a special Pay-What-You-Can night set for Thursday, February 11 and an Actor’s Benefit matinee Saturday, February 27..
For reservations or information, call (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.com
And while you’re enjoying a fun evening of theatre at Lakewood Playhouse, think about assisting with keeping live theatre alive and well and living in Lakewood. Make a well deserved donation to the Playhouse for all the entertainment they offer the residents of Pierce County and beyond. Remember, after all, You Can’t Take It With You!