Everyone’s a little embarrassed about their family. But you’ll never meet quite such an eccentric family as The Sycamores, found only at Everyman Theatre’s production of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You. This peculiar family revels in the day-to-day joys of making illegal fireworks in the basement, collecting snakes, practicing ballet in the parlor, and other oddities that make for one heck of a comic roller coaster ride. And just like every normal family has one kook, this kooky family has one normal person – Alice. And of course normal Alice just wants one normal night to bring her normal fiancée and his normal parents to her home, hoping that there won’t be anything crazy or chaotic happening. What could possibly go wrong? You’ll be laughing the night away as you explore this zany family and the dynamic of their every day enjoyable lifestyle; a comic gem to close Everyman’s final full season at their Charles Street location.
Director Vincent Lancisi packs the stage full with 19 outrageous characters that you won’t soon forget on your journey home after you laugh the night away. Some are actual family members, some might as well be family, and some are just sort of there but no one is dull. Lancisi manages to create comic chaos and transforms Kaufman and Hart’s ideas into sensational happenings upon the stage with this talented cast and team of designers who really get the audience in stitches. It’s an unforgettable uproarious night that will truly brighten up your theatre-going experience.
Scenic Designer Daniel Ettinger gives us the first hint at quirky from the lavish detail oriented set. You notice right from the beginning that there is something just slightly off about the set. It’s a full house setting, well furnished and decorated. But Ettinger adds subtle little details to clue the audience into the fact that this isn’t your average family; like the human skull on the typing desk, or the mismatched china plates mounted on the walls. He’s even decorated one of the busts with a fancy hat and scarf. Teaming up with Costume Designer David Burdick, these two creative gentlemen add an extra level of bizarre to this fun-filled show. Burdick gives the characters every chance to be absurd, from the grandiose dress and furs of Grand Duchess Olga, to Essie’s tutu which looks like an explosion from inside a cotton candy maker. Burdick and Ettinger put creative genius to the test and really show eccentricity at its finest in their designs.
There is a myriad of crazy characters for you to feast your comic palette upon; from the whacky dance instructor Kohlenkov (Bruce Randolph Nelson) to the wily drunk actress Gay Wellington (Barbara Pinolini.) Nelson is dynamite every time he bursts into a scene – booming about in his thick Russian accent with frantic expressive eyes and waggling eyebrows. Each word becomes packed with emotion when he speaks, even if he’s speaking nonsense, and Nelson fully engages his body in every step he takes across the stage. His comic performance is second to none in this performance, despite being a supporting role and his presence adds a little spice to every scene. And Pinolini provides the stock drunk, stumbling over herself in a very convincing manner, adding to the elements of disaster in Alice’s one normal night.
Adopted into the family is the household help, Rheba (Chinai J. Hardy) the multi-purpose servant, and her boyfriend Donald (Jon Hudson Odom.) Hardy and Odom manage to add a splash of color and flavor to each of their scenes, their character’s unique voices helping to show the hodgepodge of insanity that occurs in the Sycamore household on a daily basis. Odom is particularly hilarious throughout the production, elevating certain scenes to exponential awkwardness when he arrives in certain states of dress and undress, needling idly in conversation with Alice as if his attire were perfectly suitable. Hardy and Odom make the perfect pair, very flirtatious and fun loving, a delight to see together on the stage.
But what quirky family would be complete without the oddball parents? And very strange grandfather? Penny Sycamore (Caitlin O’Connell) has a knack for exuding her eccentricity with every slight twist of her head. She plays well off the other actors, each little comment delivered with a spunky zest that keeps you laughing. And her husband Paul (Tom Weyburn) is no exception to the strangeness of the family. Weyburn plays a relaxed rather excitable character who involves himself in the fireworks business, literally carrying out some of the shows finest explosive moments with a grin and great facial expressions.
Partner in crime to Weyburn is Wil Love, has the shining cameo star of the show. Love isn’t even a part of the family, he just showed up as a delivery man one day eight years ago and has been there ever since. But his subtle older charms are riotous and he shuffles about the stage with perfect comic timing. Be sure to watch him floating about in the background of several group scenes for a hilarious take on everyone else’s chaos.
Amidst the chaos, which is framed to perfection in one scene where we have xylophone playing, ballet dancing, portrait painting and posing, as well as dart throwing, candy baking, and other bizarre happenings; is Grandpa (Stan Weiman.) While eccentric in his own right, Weiman plays his character with a down-to-earth feel, letting the little quirks come and go, making him the voice of reason when the crazy family clashes with the normal one. Weiman is the perfect doddering old coot who has wisdom tucked up his sleeve and his performance is nothing short of enjoyable.
Add to the chaos Alice’s dreamer sister, Essie (Megan Anderson) who has a bubbly energy beyond belief, and her none-too-bright husband Ed (Clinton Brandhagen) and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Anderson is constantly bouncing about the stage with that starry-eyed dreamer look in her eye, trying to accomplish complicated ballet moves and still stay positive, while Brandhagen plays the slightly intellectually dull but still hilarious husband who grows rather paranoid in the second act. The pair have great chemistry on stage and help to spark that fun feeling of family love throughout the show.
But in order to balance out all that zaniness there has to be a few normal people. Alice (Brianna Letourneau) being the only self-proclaimed sane member of her family is boring by normal standards – but when marched up against her family she seems rather entertaining. Letourneau makes great use of her physicality to express distress and has the audience convinced she’s going to hyperventilate herself into fainting in act II. Her fiancée, Tony (Matthew Schleigh) is equally as normal, only like Alice, he’s lovestruck. The pair are adorable, constantly kanoodling together, exuding their mushy feelings of young love toward one another in a most hysterical manner.
Don’t forget Mr. Kirby (Carl Schurr) and his wife (Deborah Hazlett.) The pair are the epitome of stiff upper lip, prim and reserved stuffy boring people who couldn’t shake a leg if someone poked them to do it. This drastic contrast between the Kirbys and the Sycamores makes the play a non-stop laugh-a-minute production that is not to be missed this season.
If you need a good laugh, or to be reminded that maybe your family isn’t so bad – Everyman Theatre’s You Can’t Take it With You this is the show to see to kick off your summer season a little early.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with two intermissions.
You Can’t Take It With You plays through June 17, 2012 at Everyman Theatre – 1727 N. Charles Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets please call the box office at (410) 752-2208 or purchase them online.