The current community-theater presentation of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner You Can’t Take It with You, briskly staged by Towne Players’ artistic director Beth Honeycutt in the new and vastly improved Garner Historic Auditorium, is an entertaining if uneven production, featuring frisky performances by African-American actor Holmes Morrison as “Grandpa” Martin Vanderhof, Frances Stanley as his daughter Penelope Sycamore, Meg Dietrich as drunken actress Gay Wellington, and Tim Upchurch as abrasive Russian immigrant Boris Kolenkhov.
Morrison is completely charming as Grandpa, a wonderfully wise former Wall Street executive who dropped out of the rat race years ago and currently spends his days sniffing the proverbial roses. Stanley is amusing as Penelope, a jovial amateur playwright, novelist, artist, etc., who enthusiastically pursues her own bliss without an ounce of artistic talent in her entire body. Dietrich’s bleary-eyed, rubbery-legged performance as Gay is a delight—a slapstick turn in which she mainly drapes herself bonelessly on and over a series of sofas and chairs—and Upchurch makes Boris the Mad Russian the life of the ongoing party in the Vanderhof/Sycamore household.
Brandy Dale Mace is entertaining as Kolenkhov’s hapless dance student Essie Carmichael, a plump ballerina with no bounce in her slippers; and Joshua Hamilton is engaging as her husband Ed, who sells the candy his wife makes door to door, wrapping it in subversive slogans that he prints himself on his own press. Marty Smith gives a regal performance as Olga, the former Russian grand duchess now working as a waitress in New York City; and pert Maggie Cochran, who plays Alice Sycamore, and movie-star handsome Roberto Velarde, who portrays Tony Kirby, have good chemistry and provide the essential romantic subplot that allows Kaufman and Hart to stage a side-splitting comic confrontation between Alice’s extremely loosely wound parents, iconoclastic grandfather, and eccentric extended family and Tony’s starchy, strait-laced parents (personably impersonated by Rusty Sutton and Marti Hall), an overbearing Wall Street tycoon and his giddy wife, who dabbles in spiritualism.
Jack Chapman’s portrayal of Alice’s father Paul Sycamore is a bit bland, and Michael Armstrong’s over-the-top, (quite literally) in-your-face performance as Mr. DePinna goes a bit too far in reaching for a laugh. Dave Kamphuis is good as the irate Internal Revenue Service representative Henderson, who meets his Waterloo when he tries to strong-arm Grandpa into paying his back taxes, and Danny Gilchrist is funny as a Gomer Pyle-like Donald. But Rebecca Little doesn’t put enough pizzazz into her part as the Vanderhof/Sycamore family cook and Donald’s girlfriend Rheba; and Albert Meir (The Man), Ken Hall (Jim), Shannon Stansell (Mac) only have brief bits as three FBI agents who raid the Vanderhof/Sycamore household, looking for subversives, that they perform with gusto, if not polish.
The nicely detailed set devised by Towne Players technical director Scott Honeycutt provides a splendid arena in which this three-ring comic circus can take place; but director Beth Honeycutt doesn’t quite have the cast to make this classic screwball comedy sparkle like the priceless theatrical gem that it is. Nevertheless, she does her best to bring the show’s less experienced performers up to the level of the Triangle theater veterans in the cast, so that the latter won’t blow the former off the stage. And the audience at last Saturday night’s performance could not have been more appreciative.
The Towne Players present You Can't Take It with You Thursday-Saturday, March 22-24, at 8 p.m. in Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 W. Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina. $10 ($8 students and seniors). 919/779-6144. The Towne Players: http://www.towneplayers.org/. Garner Historic Auditorium: http://www.ci.garner.nc.us/historicaud.htm [inactive 5/07]. Internet Broadway Database (1936 comedy): http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=9527. Internet Movie Database (1938 film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0030993/. George S. Kaufman: http://www.georgeskaufman.com/.