Theater Review:‘Take It’
The third time is supposed to be the “charm,” but possibly not where theatrical productions are concerned.
Despite a Pulitzer Prize-winning script by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman that gained the reputation as one of the most popular and successful plays of modern times, Pennsylvania Playhouse’s third staging of “You Can’t Take It With You,” continuing through April 9, got off to a slow start and never quite hit the mark.
Under the direction of Brian McDermott, “You Can’t Take It With You” chronicles the foibles of a Great Depression-era household full of zany characters and their whimsical predilections.
At the head of the household are Paul Sycamore (Thomas F. Mattei) and his wife Penny (Elaine Pfeil). He makes fireworks in the basement of his home, and she has been writing plays, all unpublished, ever since a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to her house.
The March 31 performance, seen for this review, was marred by some uneven acting, sluggish pacing and poor comedic timing. In particular, there weren’t many laughs until the arrival of the IRS investigator nearly halfway through Act One.
Despites these shortcomings, there’s still a lot to appreciate in the production. The exchange between the IRS man (Jerry Brucker) and the grandfather (John Corl), who hasn’t paid his income tax in years, is one of he better scenes.
Jenna McBreen gave a convincing performance in the last scene of Act One as Alice Sycamore, the only “normal” member of the dysfunctional family, who is in love with her boss’s son.
Elaine Pfeil, as the zany painter mother turned playwright, is the only actor who really delivered on believable eccentricity. Her character kept the action going through all three acts.
Laughs increased in the second act with the unexpected arrival of the Kirbys, Alice’s prospective in-laws.
Susan Burnett reprises the role of Miriam Kirby that she played in Pennsylvania Playhouse’s 2004 production of “You Can’t Take It With You.” Despite having few lines, Burnett silently and very adeptly expresses her disdain, confusion, embarrassment and exasperation. The pace picked up and Act Two literally ended with a bang.
Act Three is the play’s mantra. The audience is led to see that the balmy characters in the Sycamore household aren’t so balmy after all because they understand that family and happiness are more important than riches, and happiness comes from following your passions. Though a product of the Great Depression, the play’s ideas resonate today.
The set, designed by Dan Lewis and McDermott, deserves mention for its functionality and appropriateness. It’s a homey circa 1930s living room-dining room combination with a staircase, French doors leading to the front hallway and a swinging kitchen door. Set decoration is by Mary Catherine Bracali and Steven Rosenblum. It was fun to look around and try to identify the items that cluttered the walls and table surfaces, including a pair of boxing gloves.
Costumes by Todd Burkel are reflective of the period, status and income level of the 19 cast members and their various characters, ranging from professional men to a Russian grand duchess.
Tickets: paplayhouse.org, 610-865-1192