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You Can't Take It with You

  • Theater, Comedy
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

You Can’t Take It with You. Longacre Theatre (see Broadway). By Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. Directed by Scott Ellis. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 20mins. Two intermissions.

You Can’t Take It with You: In brief

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's classic 1936 comedy chronicles the eccentric, freethinking Sycamore family, whose members follow their bliss—no matter how much chaos that creates. The dream cast includes James Earl Jones, Elizabeth Ashley, Reg Rogers and Kristine Nielsen. Scott Ellis (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) directs.

You Can’t Take It with You: Theater review by David Cote

We know about happy families being alike and unhappy ones being different, but Tolstoy was mum on the weird households. What about the clan that sticks together through chaotic, leaderless folly, that seems more closely bonded because each member inhabits another planet? The extended Sycamore ménage of the whirling and whimsical You Can’t Take It with You (1936) is a madcap tribe of passionate amateurs. Mother Penny (Kristine Nielsen) hammers away at unfinished plays; father Paul (Mark-Linn Baker) perfects fireworks in the cellar; daughter Essie (Annaleigh Ashford) aspires to the ballet corps: She cannot cross from kitchen to stairs without a galumphing pas de chat. And then there’s Grandpa (James Earl Jones), who has cheerfully retired from the rat race to enjoy his pet snakes and commencement ceremonies at nearby Columbia University. You get the idea: Everybody is chasing his or her bliss without shame or judgment.

But consider daughter Alice (Rose Byrne), unlucky for being a hobbyless normal person. Alice loves her folks but finds their bohemian ways a bar to marriage with the boss’s son, Tony Kirby (Fran Kranz). When the starchy Mr. and Mrs. Kirby (Byron Jennings, Johanna Day) show up at the Sycamores’ for a dinner party on the wrong night, the culture clash is immediate and howlingly funny.

Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s Pulitzer Prize–winning script, a three-act jamboree of sight gags, slow-boil jokes and straight-faced quirk, marks the zenith of 20th-century American comedy. The sprawling cast, the concise wit and the bighearted sentiment mixed with gimlet-eyed satire—playwrights haven’t topped it for decades. So savor the sweet and zany delight while you can.

Masterful the blueprint may be, but a weak ensemble and tin-eared direction can screw it up. But this revival (the first in more than 30 years) is stuffed with the city’s finest comic talents. Besides the aforementioned pros, marvelous Reg Rogers lopes around the periphery as a raffish Russian dance teacher, while Julie Halston stops the show as a dipsomaniacal stage hack Penny brings home. Scott Ellis conducts the escalating craziness with style and grace on David Rockwell’s perfectly cluttered, eclectic living-room set. The Sycamores will welcome literally anyone into the family: It’s hard to resist running away to join their circus.—Theater review by David Cote

THE BOTTOM LINE Kaufman and Hart’s splendid comedy boasts a cast of New York greats in a sparkling revival.

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

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