A funny thing happens on the way to the second act of “You Can’t Take It With You,” now at Northlight Theatre through Dec. 13, 2015.
Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s comedy about the nutty Vanderhoff- Sycamore family during the Great Depression at first seems dated. Certainly in theater terms it’s a very old “chestnut.”
Then, when Wilber Henderson, an Internal Revenue agent explains to Grandpa Vanderhoff that he has to pay income tax to pay for the President, Supreme Court and Congress, you hear Grandpa say “Not with my money.”
Hmm. It sounds familiar to some sentiments still expressed in the 21st century.
Or there’s the way Vanderhoff’s daughter, Penelope Sycamore keeps trying to pound out plays on her typewriter? Wannabe-playwrights (and novelists) fill writers’ classes and conferences, today. She also dabbles in oils. So maybe her character is not so eccentric. It certainly isn’t dated.
There are the flyers printed by Ed Carmichael, husband of Penelope’s daughter Essie. He prints them to go into boxes of candy his wife makes. The flyers seem to be incendiary calls for action against the state but Ed merely copied them from a book by Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. He just likes to print what he sees.
The quotes might have gotten a shudder or a laugh during the country’s Red scare decades in the mid-20th century. They didn’t mean much to Carmichael, a simple person who likes catchy phrases, but they caught the attention of Federal agents in the play. Today, they also mirror sentiments espoused by homegrown and other terrorists (Oklahoma City) and would arouse Homeland Security.
Then there is Grandpa’s philosophy about escaping the harsh corporate world to do what he enjoys. We often we hear similar sentiments from people today.
Maybe this comedy which took the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1938, really should be looked at again. Fortunately, Northlight Theatre brings the play back to life with fine direction by Devon de Mayo and outstanding actors.
John Judd is perfect as patriarch Martin Vanderhof. Penny Slusher does a delightful Penelope Sycamore who may seem harmless but actually has a wicked gleam in her eye and her suggestions. Lucy Carapetyan is charming as Sycamore’s daughter, Alice. She tries to discourage Tony Kirby (Bernie Balbot), the man she loves and the son of her boss, from visiting her eccentric family.
However, the fun part of the play is the way characters keep popping in and out of scenes.
Penelope’s husband, Paul (Brad Armacost), gleefully experiments with Fourth of July fireworks helped by Mr. De Pinna (Keith Neagle), the family’s former iceman who just stayed on.
Sean Fortunato does an over-the-top Boris Kolenkhov, long-time dance instructor to Alice’s sister, Essie (Joanne Dubach) , an overly dramatic, child-like girl who doesn’t dance well but likes to flit around the room.
Long-time Chicago character actress Hollis Resnik is a hoot as the drunk Gay Wellington whom Penelope brought home to act in one of her plays. Resnik also is Grand Duchess Olga Katrina later in the play. Ericka Ratccliff is just right as Rheba the maid who goes with Donald (Samuel Robertson), an injured, odd-jobs character who also seems to be part of the household.
Then there are the Kirby’s. Hart and Kauffman have purposely placed the staid, upper-crust Kirby family, Tony and his parents, Anthony (Patrick Clear) and Miriam (Jenny Avery) into this odd-ball stew. What develops is still excellent fodder for discussions on what’s important in life.
Details: “You Can’t Take It With You” is at Northlight Theatre in the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL 60077, through Dec. 13, 2015. For more information and tickets visit Northlight and call 847-673-6300.