Audiences during the Great Depression had their spirits lifted by "You Can't Take It With You," the wacky 1936 comedy by George S. Kaufmanand Moss Hart. The lively Everyman Theatre production seems likely to have the same uplifting effect for audiences during our lingering Great Recession.
Among other things, this play is a great way to lower the unemployment rate in the acting community. The 19 actors in the cast are kept fully employed portraying a zestfully eccentric family, its permanent houseguests and befuddled visitors. So many characters flit about the beautifully cluttered, period-evocative domestic set design by Daniel Ettinger that it's a wonder there aren't any collisions.
Most of the movement is verbal, however, as these chatty characters fling comic zingers with the flippant ease associated with the screwball comedies of that era. For all of its whimsical subplots and silly dialogue, "You Can't Take It With You" remains a tightly scripted three-act play that never loses sight of its thesis that a nonconformist family sticks together by ignoring the conventional middle-class rules.
Rather than holding down a job, the middle-aged Paul Sycamore (Tom Weyburn), spends most of his time setting off firecrackers in the basement. He's assisted by Mr. De Pinna (Wil Love, whose facial reactions to events are priceless), a houseguest who never left. Meanwhile, Paul's wife, Penelope (Caitlin O'Connell), is an amateur playwright who bangs out hilariously inept plays on a now-old-fashioned typewriter.
One of their daughters, Essie (Megan Anderson), literally darts around the living room as an aspiring ballerina who has more aspiration than talent; Essie's husband, Ed (Clinton Brandhagen), loves to play the xylophone, although he doesn't seem to realize that he is not the composer of famous classical pieces.
Their second daughter, Alice (Brianna Letourneau), is the only relatively normal member of the family. She loves the rest of them, but she's worried that her nice-guy boyfriend, Tony Kirby (Matthew Schleigh), will wonder what he's getting himself into. Even more worrisome for Alice is that Tony's extremely conservative parents, the Wall Street titan Mr. Kirby (Carl Schurr) and the equally uptight Mrs. Kirby (Deborah Hazlett), are coming over for dinner. Meeting the future in-laws seems like a recipe for disaster.
Although the engaging production directed by Vincent M. Lancisi does not completely take flight until the second act, it handles the escalating complications with delightful confidence. The big cast, which includes quite a few Everyman favorites in roles that they seem born to play, has a great time playing over-the-top characters for whom being over-the-top is the unquestioned norm.
Besides the actors playing the already-mentioned family members, others making notable contributions include Bruce Randolph Nelson as Boris Kolenkhov, whose Russian mannerisms are a stereotypical hoot.
This cast is so nicely coordinated that a few minor exceptions stand out more than they might in a more pedestrian production. As family patriarch Martin Vanderhof, Stan Weiman hesitated with enough lines to throw off the conversational flow in several scenes at the opening-night performance. A wonderful casting choice to play a crusty grandfather who decided decades earlier to stop working, Weiman seems likely to eventually have his character fully settle into a household whose domestic routine is anything but routine.
It's never really clear how this willfully unemployed family manages to live so well, but you'd have to be Mr. Kirby to fret over something mundane like that. Anyway, this family's wealth really consists of their free-spirited pursuit of the things that matter most to them. The family that plays together with fireworks stays together. As for the explosive sounds and smoke coming from the basement, well, only a Mr. Kirby type would consider getting a homeowners insurance policy.
"You Can't Take It With You" runs through June 17 at Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles Street in Baltimore. Tickets are $10- $60. Call 410-752-2208 or go to http://www.everymantheatre.org.