My familiarity with You Can’t Take it With You was the 1938 film version starring Jean Arthur and Jimmy Stewart. The film version won two Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director out of seven nominations. Likewise, the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart won the 1937 Pulizer Prize for Drama.
I was quite young when I saw it, and have only caught glimpses of it since that time. Obviously, I was going to see this show with fresh eyes. I didn’t know what to expect, and once the curtain opened, I quickly realized that I didn’t know what I was looking at. If those words seem harsh I apologize. It’s actually a good thing.
Before we get into the details of the play, let’s talk about the people backstage that make this production possible. Director Julie King has created a visual feast for the eyes. This is in no small way due to the set design work by Steven Olson. The set is extravagant, dominated by tacky wallpaper that not only brightens the scene, but the mood of the production as well. The stage setting is well structured with the placement of furniture, realistic doorways, and a three dimensional layout. The props are numerous and match the decor. They even have two adorable guinea pigs as additional cast members. The stage was well lit, though the lighting remained the same for most of the production. Bill Coopedge and Perrin Dalgleish were responsible for lighting.
The plot of the play is, to say the least, confusing. This is by design, for it seems chaos seems to be the overall theme. It tells the story of an unusual family, each member having their own intellectual pursuits, and their eccentricities seem to overlap. This makes for a very loud and chaotic environment. Honestly, there are far too many characters to keep up with, but at the center of it all is Grandpa Vanderhoff. He is the quiet in the eye of the hurricane. The plot revolves around Alice, Vanderhoff’s granddaughter, who has fallen in love with Tony. Tony comes from a wealthy family. She worries that her relationship with Tony will not have a future because of her family’s embarrassing behavior, and Tony’s family’s high standards.
Her concerns are not entirely unfounded. Grandpa is being investigated for delinquent tax payments, Alice’s Father is building fireworks in the basement, her mother writing erotic adventures for the stage, all the while being visited by a number of eccentric guests. It’s at this time when Tony’s family decides to visit. This goes about as well as you would expect. Once again, it’s very chaotic and confusing, but keep in mind that this is what was intended when the play was written. There are so many things going on at once, that it makes Alice and Tony the serious characters in a sea of comic reliefs.
Highlights of the performances included Terry Neinhuis as Grandpa Vanderhoff. His laid back performance drove the story and his final prayer at the end wrapped things up in a neat bow. John Cauthen is well known in the area for his talent and natural stage presence, and he delivers as Boris Kolenkhov, the politically active ballet instructor. Frank Connelly is a fantastic character actor, and it was shocking to see him with unnaturally bright red hair. Cathy Dean as Gay Wellington was highly amusing with the character’s drunken antics. A surprise scene stealer was Kevin Clauberg a Wilbur C. Henderson, the G-Man that came to inform Grandpa Vanderhoff of his delinquent taxes. In the scene Henderson becomes increasingly agitated with Grandpa’s responses. Mr. Clauberg delivers the biggest laugh for me in this performance.
I don’t have any real complaints about this production. Though it would have been nice if the lighting was a little more dramatic during Grandpa’s final monologue. It was over-all very entertaining. Yes some parts were confusing, but that was the author’s intention. The performance was enjoyable, but did take a little while to build up steam. It’s a fun time no matter how you look at it.
Tickets are still available for the remaining shows at the Williamsburg Players Theater.