YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOUA Comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Artisan Center Theater
Executive Producer/Artistic Director – Dee Ann Blair
Executive Producer – Rick Blair
Associate Producer – Natalie Burkhart
Directors – Connie Sanchez and Kevin Dilks
Stage Manager – Haley Allen
Set Design – Eric Luckie
Light/Sound Design – Wes Taylor
Costume/Prop Design – Connie Sanchez
Set Construction – Jeff Watson, Eric Luckie, Daniel Orges, and Jennifer Dooley
Graphic Design – Brian Blair
Photography – Al Smith
CAST (NOTE: PRODUCTION IS DOUBLE CAST; CRITIC REVIEWED THE FOLLOWING ACTORS)
Penelope Sycamore – Marlain Jones
Essie – Rebecca Roberts
Rheba – Candace Alexander
Paul Sycamore – Chris Janvier
Mr. De Pinna – Darren Doyel
Ed – Ryan Janke
Donald – Devon Isaacs
Martin Vanderhof – Andy Neill
Alice – D. Rose Wolf
Henderson/Head G-Man – Brendon Ramsey
Tony Kirby – Hayden Casey
Boris Kolenkhov – Rakesh Podupati
Gay Wellington – Ann Dickman
Mr. Kirby – Jeston Hays
Mrs. Kirby – Noel Clark
Olga – Amber Harrington
G-Man Mac – Stephen Jakubik
G-Man Jim – Chaz Gatlin
Reviewed Performance: 7/20/2019
Reviewed by Jazmin Wilson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The story takes place entirely in the Vanderhof, Sycamore, and Carmichael’s interwoven New York residence. In just the first few minutes, each member of the family is introduced one right after the other with eccentricity for days, showcasing the rather odd nature of their family dynamic. Grandpa Vanderhof (Andy Neill) is presented as a man who collects snakes and avoids income tax like the plague. His daughter, Penelope “Penny” Sycamore (Marlain Jones) is an overambitious playwright with countless unfinished melodramas, and is married to Paul Sycamore (Chris Janvier), a tinkerer who manufactures fireworks in the family basement with an assistant named Mr. De Pinna (Darren Doyel). One of the two Sycamore daughters, Essie (Rebecca Roberts), is a bubbly, dance crazed candy maker who, despite noting her eight years of dance training, looks like a bobbling toddler in pointe shoes. Essie’s husband is Ed Carmichael (Ryan Janke), who is an amateur print maker that prints whatever phrases strike him as catchy. He also plays the xylophone, a talent which he frequently employs during the duration of the show. The second Sycamore daughter, Alice (D. Rose Wolf), is clearly pegged as the “normal” member of the family, working an office job and generally holding herself with a much more sophisticated attitude than that of her family members. In addition to all these family personalities, the household also employs a witty, outspoken maid by the name of Rheba (Candace Alexander), whose boyfriend Donald (Devon Isaacs) helps the family with anything they need. Alice arrives home one day from work, proclaiming her love for the executive’s son, Tony Kirby (Hayden Casey). Her family is thrilled at the news, and she tells them that he will be over soon to pick her up for a date. When he arrives, Boris Kolenkhov (Rakesh Podupati), Essie’s dance instructor, has already made his entrance, and Tony gets just a small taste of what Alice’s family is really made of. Following their date, Alice and Tony make plans to have Tony and his parents over for dinner soon, to Alice’s great reluctance. Alice convinces her family privately to do everything they possibly can to seem traditional, and they agree, but Tony arrives for dinner with his parents on the wrong night, exposing them to the side of Alice’s family that Alice did not want them to see. Chaos ensues, of course, but all is well by the end. I won’t spoil any further, though; no worries.
The young couple, portrayed by D. Rose Wolf and Hayden Casey, make a visually appealing, passionate pair. Wolf delivers genuine stress in her role, making you worry helplessly for her each step of the way. When not speaking, Wolf still continues to look just as wound up about every little thing that goes wrong, and her performance has just the right amount of ups and downs necessary that by the end of it all, you just want to give her a big hug. Casey, however, provides the audience with the genuine notion that he is more than anything, in love with Wolf’s character, which makes the moments of angst all the more heart wrenching for the viewer. There is a certain hopefulness in his expressions toward Wolf that just stole my heart completely, and identically to Wolf, I wanted to hug him by the show’s end.
While the show’s central plot was primarily tied to the romance between Alice and Tony, the magic of the production is in the background. All activities, be it portrayed by a lead or a minor character, were absolutely enticing, and I had trouble trying to select a performer to watch. No matter where you looked, there was an individual story going on in the faces of all the characters, making them seem even more realistic. It is even clearer through the portrayal of the minor characters that the elements of Alice’s life that make it so interesting are these larger than life personalities she is surrounded with. Mr. De Pinna is constantly forgotten about in conversation, and despite this, Darren Doyel makes sure that everyone present in the audience views him as an unforgettable aspect to the comedic nature of the show. Him being neglected as a member of the family during introductions is always loud in the way that he sulks and steps forward to introduce himself and was by far a favorite running joke of mine throughout the show. Kolenkhov’s entrances, characteristically, are all like a tornado, and Podupati’s delivery of this character is what truly makes it so. He is loud and boisterous and always going on about something to do with Russia, and Essie hangs on every word that he says. Rheba’s lines are snippy and too funny to miss; even her laugh has a bit of hilarity in it. Candace Alexander truly took the extra step to make Rheba stand out, and my guest and I dually noted that she was a favorite character of ours. Her boyfriend, Donald, though a man of few lines, still proves his relevance just in the way that he emotes and moves, which is entirely commendable on Isaacs’ part. At one point in the show, he was sent on an errand, and mustered the quickest run he possibly could across the set, all the while making loads of noise with his feet as he went.
Another notable duo would have to be Mr. and Mrs. Kirby, whose portrayal by Jeston Hays and Noel Clark paints them as judgmental and uptight. The actors even stand a little taller and hold their heads a little higher, truly making the division of class a visible element of their characterization.
On the topic of secondary characters, there was no character in the entire performance that I adored as much as I adored Essie and Ed. There was just something about the fact that Janke the xylophone and Roberts actually ran around dancing with full confidence in her face despite her obvious lack of talent that just made me laugh a little bit harder as I watched. Not only were they hilarious on surface level, but my eyes were drawn to Roberts and Janke in nearly every scene. No matter if they had lines or not, these two were always engaged with characters and situations in their environment, including each other! These two could be caught talking amongst themselves in the corner at any given moment and it is their enthusiastic interactions with each other that made them not only a believable couple, but a fun duo to watch. Regardless of the scene’s tone, these two reacting to things always gave me something new to laugh at. The dedication that Rebecca Roberts and Ryan Janke brought to this pair was truly incredible and an absolute privilege to see.
Characters aside, let’s talk details. There was nothing negative I could have possibly said about the costumes. I was particularly fond of Alice’s wardrobe throughout the show, who adorned an ever-changing arrangement of lovely blue dresses. Her wardrobe alone made me realize how well picked each garment was not only for the characters, but for the actors as well, as Wolf’s beautiful red hair was made even more prominent through her cool toned wardrobe. Essie’s costumes made me smile as well, whether it was a tutu or a heavily patterned floral dress beneath a bright pink apron. Tony Kirby even alternated between different colored suits and was always sure to be wearing a bow tie. Mr. and Mrs. Kirby’s costumes were especially well picked, in my opinion, as they were just another factor that separated them in their elite, untouchable way. All in all, each costume was well suited to the characters depending on the situation they were in.
In addition, the structure of the stage itself made everything a little bit more involved. The show took place on a stage surrounded by seats on all sides, which, to me, makes the show a lot more in your face and personal than a stage parallel to the audience. The set itself was well detailed but subtle with a nice color scheme of greens and browns and a ton of little knickknacks to add the perfect homey details. Calendars, sepia photographs, china, and the like, made the home subtly cozier and more realistic, which I appreciated a lot, especially in a show that’s central theme is the importance of familial relationships.
Among all great things the show had to offer, there were a few minor things to note. Despite the characterization being not only well executed but entertaining, there were a great deal of line slip ups. I understand that this is natural and something that often occurs during productions, however, there were quite a few instances where lines were somewhat botched and even noticeable to audience members, which is never ideal, especially when reoccurring. At times, certain actors would try to begin a line before another actor was finished with theirs, as well. In addition, there were also a few moments of notable fuzziness in certain characters’ microphones. Some characters were crystal clear while some were a little on the fuzzier side, which was a minor distraction for me.
All in all, the show provided for a more than enjoyable evening and kept the audience on their toes throughout the entire performance. There were some moments where jokes would pass and I couldn’t even stop laughing, as the delivery was masterful and confident for all of them. If I had any recommendations for those looking to view this show, I would suggest finding a seat somewhere in the middle of a row, as I was seated there and fully pleased with my angle. Despite my small observations, the show was entirely wonderful in its portrayal of love, family, class differences, and how important it is to appreciate those around you with all you’ve got.