Have you seen the cartoon depicting a circus clown couple, reading a letter with evident dismay? "He's run away to become an accountant," one says to the other. Alice Sycamore can't run away from the circus that is her warmly goofy family in Hart and Kaufman's Depression-era classic You Can't Take It with You, the season-opener that explains why in the middle of this era's economic tumble, the Willows Theatre Company is still packing them in. It's funny, it's sweet, and unlike the film version Frank Capra made, it's almost completely apolitical -- unless you count Grandpa Vanderhof's decision not to pay income tax because he doesn't see the point in it.
The play takes place in the Vanderhof living room, better known as the "every man for himself room," where Grandpa Vanderhof presides over his eclectic family and their personal obsessions. Granddaughter Essie practices her ballet moves to the accompaniment of husband Ed on xylophone, daughter Penny writes plays nobody will ever see, and her husband hangs out in the basement concocting elaborate fireworks with a guy who showed up to deliver ice several years back and never left. It's a perpetual motion machine, where everyone sits down only long enough to have cereal for dinner and the occasional stray Russian duchess waltzes in to make blintzes.
Out of this chaos comes Alice, the "normal" member of the family, who has a real job as a Wall Street secretary and a real infatuation with her boss' son Tony. The feeling's mutual, but Alice fears that once Tony's family gets a look at Chez Vanderhof, the deal will be kaput. A formal, well-behaved dinner is planned, sans ballet slippers, xylophone, typewriter, and explosives, but wouldn't you know it, here's Tony and his family, a day early! High jinks ensue as Alice's mom leads a free-association game (based on Moss Hart's extensive psychotherapy with the same shrink who misdiagnosed the brain tumor that would kill George Gershwin), maid Rheba scrambles to get together a dinner of frankfurters and pig's feet, and those pesky government boys come around hot to do some arresting. Did I mention the explosives? Everything comes right in the end, to the message that everybody should do what they like doing.
The living room isn't the only place being overrun. For the Willows, You Can't Take It with You also marks something of an invasion, as several young actors who are best known for their work with nomadic companies such as the Shotgun Players and Impact make the trip through the Caldecott Tunnel for the first time. Rami Margron, the dizzy Essie, has worked with Women's Will and Shotgun. Bernadette Quattrone (smart-mouthed Rheba) recently starred in Emerald Rain's Young Zombies in Love and before that was in Impact's Love Is the Law. And Tony is played by Brent Rosenbaum, a Shotgun company member who recently gave his all for their Play About the Baby. It's a heartening trend; the Willows can use the fresh blood and it's good to see promising actors exposed to audiences that might not otherwise get to see them, in the kind of play built to show off comic gifts.
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