You Can’t Take It With You: Your Family’s Not As Weird As You Think

Michael Anthony, Brian Mulvey, Marc Tiberiis, and Leslie Racine Vazquez in "You Can't Take It With You"

Michael Anthony, Brian Mulvey, Marc Tiberiis, and Leslie Racine Vazquez in “You Can’t Take It With You”

Everyone thinks their family has a monopoly on weird. Maybe that explains our fascination with quirky families in fiction: They show us that however strange we think our families are, it can always be much worse. This is in no way a new phenomenon — quite likely, as long as there have been families, there have been people bemoaning how out there their own is. In fact, the quirky family trope was popularized by a play from the 1930s. The timelessness of its premise is what makes The Community Players’ current production of You Can’t Take It With You work without seeming dated.

At the center of the Kaufman and Hart play is the Sycamore family. Its members include Grandpa Vanderhof (Brian Mulvey) who walked out of his business job 35 years ago and never looked back, choosing instead to focus on doing what makes him happy, including tending to his pet snakes and not paying income taxes; the mother, Penny (Carl Varden), an accidental playwright of eight years due to a typewriter being delivered to the wrong address; the father, Paul (Bradford J Greer), who runs a fireworks business from his basement with Mr. Depinna (Michael Anthony) who came to deliver ice one day and never left; Essie (Leslie Racine Vazquez), their daughter who, though talentless, aspires to be a ballerina; and Alice (Ashley Lopes), who holds a job working for a Wall Street tycoon and is the most normal of the bunch. In addition to the core family members, many others make themselves at home in the Sycamore household, including their housekeeper, Rheba (Rachel Nadeau), her boyfriend Donald (Kevin Thibault), Essie’s husband Ed (Ron Martin), Essie’s Russian dance teacher Boris Kolenkhov (Marc Tiberiis), drunken actress Gay Wellington (Laura Benjamin) and Russian Grand Duchess Olga (Lee Rush). Though eccentric, they are supportive and welcoming, as indicated by the warmly lit set that looks like it could be anyone’s home, save for the snake tank standing in the corner. It’s a household of organized chaos with people coming and going, and this is best illustrated when the family members are all on stage doing their thing — Essie dancing, Penny typing, Ed playing the xylophone — in a few moments of cacophony.

Conflict arises when Alice falls in love with the boss’s son, Tony Kirby (Daniel Martens). When the two get engaged, two worlds collide in the form of the Sycamores’ oddity and the Kirby’s work-focused, well-to-do normalcy. As you might expect, chaos ensues when Tony brings his parents (Frank O’Donnell and Michelle Reynolds Golda) to meet the Sycamores on the wrong night in the form of an enlightening game, strange food, a criminal investigation and some fireworks.

Among the standouts in the cast are Tiberiis as Kolenkhov, who fits in well with the Sycamores as someone who tends to be socially impertinent: At one point, he puts Mr. Kirby in a headlock. His strong presence and charismatic embodiment of every Soviet Russia stereotype easily steal the show. Mulvey is the moral heart of the show as Grandpa, who drives home the message of valuing happiness over money in the end. Interestingly, RI Comedy Hall of Fame member Frank O’Donnell plays one of the least comedic roles in the show. It’s not that his performance was lacking, but don’t expect to see the extent of his comedic talents in this role.

You Can’t Take It With You is at its core a feel-good show. It’s a comedy with simple and oft spoken messages of the importance of family and happiness over money, a message that was particularly important in the Depression era from whence the play came. Though the context has changed, those values prove themselves to be timeless.

The Community Players’ production of You Can’t Take It With You runs through July 16 at Jenks Auditorium in Pawtucket. For tickets, visit thecommunityplayers.net or call 401-726-6860.

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