This production has just gotten tighter and more joyful since it opened. It also has added depth, thanks in no small part to two additions to the cast. You Can’t Take It With You celebrates the joy of being different, being yourself, more than almost any other play out there, which long ago earned it a special place in my heart.
The Sycamores are a family of happy eccentrics, led by easy-going paterfamilias Grandpa Vanderhof (magnificently played here by James Earl Jones). When youngest daughter Alice (cast addition Anna Chlumsky) invites her fiancé’s straight-laced parents over for dinner, Grandpa and company find they must heartily defend their unusual way of life.
Chlumsky is by turns tender and playful, has a natural kookiness that lets her immediately make sense as a Sycamore. The other addition, Richard Thomas, plays Alice’s father Paul with a great good-natured warmheartedness that’s deeply appealing. Director Scott Ellis has kept the proceedings appropriately fast-paced and light-hearted, paying careful attention to making distinctions among this household’s wide variety of personalities. David Rockwell’s set perfectly captures both the eclectic chaos and the liberated spirit Grandpa’s philosophy has unleashed.
Jones has always been capable of a light touch, it just isn’t what is usually asked of him. You Can’t Take it With You gives him ample opportunity to apply such a touch – this is, after all, a man who relishes relaxing into life. And the result is wonderful: gentleness backed up with kilowatts of reserved power.
This is definitely an ensemble show, though, and what an ensemble! It’s lucky that Rockwell has designed such a massive set, and surprising that the scenery hasn’t been entirely chewed away at the end of every evening (I mean this as a compliment, by the way). Julie Halston, as a soused actress, has one of the smallest parts in the show, but treats it like a full meal. Annaleigh Ashford hits the show’s sweetly hilarious tone most effortlessly as the forever en pointe would-be ballerina Essie.
The title refers to the money that 9-to-5ers and salarymen are forever chasing after, and to the fact that, in the final analysis, money has little to do with finding happiness here and now. And that’s a message that’s just as needed now as it was in 1938. Highly recommended.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.