Providence Players You Can’t Take it With YouBy Adam Sylvain • Oct 23rd, 2012 • Category: Reviews
James Lee Community Center Theater, Falls Church, VA
Through November 3rd
2:30 with one intermission
$18/$15 Seniors, students
Reviewed October 20th, 2012
Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s You Can’t Take It With You presents a charmingly relatable struggle between the warmhearted, yet eccentric Sycamore family, and the wealthy, but far less animated Kirbys. At the center of the families’ failed attempts to relate to one another, is the transcendent romance shared by Alice Sycamore and Tony Kirby. It was fun to observe playful criticism of everyday American gripes, such as work, taxes, and an “overzealous” government in the play, but what made the production particularly fun to watch was the collective weight of its characters, each playing a role in first ostracizing the rigid Kirbys, and then winning them over.
A popular run in community theater circuits, You Can’t Take It With You was chosen by the Providence Players of Fairfax (PPF) as the opening production for their 15th season, and marked a return to the company’s first and only production during their 1998 inaugural year. The cast seemed to possess a level of comfort and continuity in their roles, with several leads having been a part of the 1998 performance. With few exceptions, the cast brought great energy to each scene and elicited laughter at the right moments throughout the evening. A vibrant and intricately detailed set further enhanced my impressions of PPF’s strong début.
The First Act began by introducing Penny Sycamore, a middle-aged woman with a multitude of odd hobbies, but little real talent. Mrs. Sycamore’s role was played by Sarah Evans Bennett, who succeeded in conveying Sycamore’s aloofness and pleasure in pinning the stuffy Kirbys in uncomfortable moments throughout the play. Bennett displayed a noticeable comfort level with the role, having played Mrs. Sycamore previously in PPF’s 1998 production.
Next we met Penny’s live-in adult daughter, Essie Carmichael. The first thing I noticed about Carmichael’s character, played by Andra Whitt, was her striking resemblance to actress Kristen Schaal (who plays “Hazel Whassername” in 30 Rock, and “Mel” in Flight of the Conchords). Not only is the appearance of the two uncanny, but Whitt seemed to effectively channel Schaal’s awkward and ditsy humor, perfect for the role of Essie Carmichael, who is as clueless as her mother in her lack of artistic talent which she painfully attempts to manifest in dance.
The romantic relationship between Alice Sycamore and Tony Kirby, played by Katie Brown and Christopher Schwartz, respectively, featured two characters with strong individual performances, but there seemed to be something slightly missing in the chemistry between the two. Perhaps augmented by the fact that Sycamore sought to end their engagement at several points out of fear their families couldn’t coexist, their love just didn’t seem overly tenable.
Mr. Kirby, a Wall Street businessman and father of Alice Sycamore’s suitor in the play, was well cast, with Patrick David taking up the role. David succeeded especially in presenting Mr. Kirby as someone with depth and humor, although dominated by propriety and business sense. This capturing of a rather nuanced personality becomes important when Kirby ultimately relents from his stubbornness and stifled behavior.
Apart from the cast, which included a number of other prominent roles, the stage crew more than held their own in making this production a successful début for PPF’s 15th season.
During an interview earlier this week, Director Chip Gertzog said to look forward to a great set. I was excited to see what they would do to recreate the home of Martin Vanderhof, referred to by all members of the Sycamore family as “Grandpa.” Set Designer John Coscia — who also performed admirably as Martin Vanderhof in the play — not only creatively portrayed a 1930’s home, but in the home’s crowded array of furniture and “knick-knacks,” served to mirror the color and variety of the various members of the Sycamore family who made the house a backdrop for their wide-ranging behavior.
My gosh, was it really fifteen years ago that this community theater adventure we call The Providence Players started, on an elementary school gym stage, with a production of You Can’t Take it With you? I can still hear the very first time John Coscia pronounced, “Well, sir, you should have been there.” Forty theater productions, and fifteen years later, it is an honor to be directing such a wonderful cast in such a fabulous play to open our 15th Anniversary Season!
As the Vanderhoff/Sycamore household, the PPF home, for me, has been an endless source of inspiration, creativity, acceptance, growth, and, above all else, enduring friendship and love. Where else, but in this home, could a complete theater neophyte learn, experiment,and grow so very much in such a supportive environment? Fifteen yers ago, I found myself on stage, scared to death, playing Ed Carmichael in this play, my twelve yer old son in the audience. Where else, but in this theater home, fifteen years later, could you experience directing that same young man, fresh off his own successful directorial début (Side Man last winter), in the same role? “You know if this keeps up, I want to live to be a hundred and fifty.”
You Can’t Take it With You is truly a theatrical feast. It is hilarious in its farcical humor, touching in its love story and in its enduring themes, poignant in its satire (and surprisingly relevant today, more than 75 years after it first appeared in theaters) and ingenious in its writing and construction. No wonder it garnered the Pulitzer Prize for Kaufman and Hart and no wonder it is a permanent fixture on American stages. This play is a delight to mount and all of us in the Providence Players family hope you will enjoy it as much as we have enjoyed bringing it to you!
Like DePinna and the milk man before him in the play, one day, 15 years ago, I just showed up at a meeting of what was to become Providence Players and just stayed….and as you watch tonight’s performance I trust you will see why…and I hope you will stay too…”Going to be a nice crowd.”
Chip Gertzog, Director
Photos by Chip Gertzog
- Penny Sycamore: Sara Evans Bennett
- Essie Carmichael: Andra Whitt
- Rheba: Elizabeth Pfeifer
- Paul Sycamore: Mike Daze
- Mr. DePinna: Joe Gargiulo
- Ed Carmichael: Jimmy Gertzog
- Donald: Bill Vanderclute
- Martin Vanderhoff (Grandpa) John Coscia
- Alice Sycamore: Katie Brown
- Mr. Henderson: Harry Kantrovich
- Tony Kirby: Christopher Schwartz
- Boris Kolenkhov: Craig Geoffrion
- Gay Wellington: Beth Hughes Brown
- Mrs. Kirby: Susan Kaplan
- Mr. Kirby: Patrick David
- G-Man 1: Mike Donohue
- Duchess Olga Katrina: Tina Hodge Thronson
- Director: Chip Gertzog
- Producer: Janet Bartelmay
- Stage Manager: Danine Welsh
- Asst Stage Manager: Mike Donohue
- Stage Crew: Raedun Knutsen, Emma Pfeifer
- Technical Director: Sarah Mournighan
- Lighting Design: Sarah Mournighan, Chip Gertzog
- Sound Design: Chip Gertzog, Barbara Gertzog
- Technical Crew: Cathy Moscowitz
- Set Design: John Coscia
- Set Construction: John Coscia
- Set Construction Crew: Janet Bartelmay, John Coscia, Joe Gargiulo, Andrew Garling, Chip Gertzog, Jimmy Gertzog, David James, Harry Kantrovich, Saul Kaplan, Raedun Knutsen, Mike Mattheisen, Cathy Moskowitz, Elizabeth Pfeifer, Emma Pfeifer, Gordon Pfeifer, Dave Schwartz, Audrey Suarez, Tina Thronson, Bobby Welsh, Danine Welsh, Elise Welsh, Sue Winfield
- Set Decoration: Lisa Church, Chip Gertzog
- Set Painting/Wall Paper: Chip Gertzog, Lisa Church, Craig Geoffrion
- Costume Design: Robbie Snow
- Hair and Makeup Design: Beth Harrison
- Properties: Chip Gertzog
- Special Effects: Chip Gertzog
- House Management: Mike Daze, Mike Mattheisen, Matt Ames, Sue Winfield
- Playbill: Ellen Burns
- Playbill Advertising: Jayne Victor, John Coscia, David Whitehead
- Photographers: Chip Gertzog, Emma Pfeifer
- Publicity: Chip Gertzog
Disclaimer: Providence Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8779.
Adam Sylvain is a high school teacher and freelance writer in Northern Virginia. When not occupying a classroom, or meeting a deadline, he enjoys experiencing live theater, getting outdoors, and smoking an occasional tobacco pipe filled with rum tobacco.