The delightfully chaotic Sycamore household remains a charming portrait of unconditional love and appealing diversity as evident in Wright State University’s lighthearted and attractively designed staging of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1937 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy “You Can’t Take it With You.”
In the midst of the kookiness at the center of this character-specific romp about a close-knit family with big personalities and zany hobbies is a thoroughly engaging love story merging two distinctively opposite families. The bond between middle class Alice Sycamore (cute and coy Katie Sinicki evoking 1930s nuances) and her Wall Street boyfriend Tony Kirby (dashing, amiable George Heddleston) absolutely holds the emotional core of this relatable if overstuffed classic together as their relationship blooms, fractures and heals. When Tony’s uptight parents visit the Sycamores for dinner, situations turn prickly and uncomfortable (Alice scolding her family for their odd behavior always stings), but the truths that arise from misunderstanding give value to the show’s embrace of universal acceptance.
Director Joe Deer, in his first non-musical outing for WSU, keeps the pace brisk and the comedic timing sharp overall, specifically staging a joyful Act 2 finale complete with fireworks and confetti. However, there are a few offbeat moments when laughs are forced or completely over-the-top, notable miscues particularly apparent in Christine Fiala’s erratic take on alcoholic diva Gay Wellington. Even so, Deer coaxes strong portrayals from many principals. Standout work extends to a terrifically heartfelt Isaac Ingle as Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (whose unique views on income tax and living life to the fullest are hallmarks of the script), Danni Hepp as Penelope Sycamore (her savvy handling of the play’s significant “personality game” is a highlight), bubbly Mackenzie Kasbaum as aspiring ballerina Essie Carmichael, adorably square Jeremy Farley as Essie’s husband Ed, Kyle Krichbaum as eccentric Mr. DePinna, the imposing Zach Fretag as passionately earthy artist-instructor Boris Kolenkov, the wonderfully resonate duo of Kenneth Erard and Heather Cooperman as the Kirbys, Kennedy Cook (a senior at Stivers School for the Arts) as dutiful Rheba, and Christian Henderson as Rheba’s boyfriend Donald. The cast includes Alexia Vlahos as Grand Duchess Olga Katrina, Logan Kitchens as Paul Sycamore, Nick Wasserbauer as Henderson, Thomas Sheffer as G-Man, Jake Siwek as Mac, and Dean McKenzie as Jim.
Additionally, Deer’s fantastic artistic team includes scenic designer David J. Castellano (his handsomely detailed and colorful set is a character of its own), costumer Courtney Zimmerman (providing eye-catching period outfits), lighting designer Jennifer Watson, sound designer Silas Sheckels, dialect coach Deborah Thomas, and properties master John Lavarnway (supplying an authentic printing press).
At a time when our great nation is wounded by tragedy and divided by policy and presidency, “You Can’t Take it With You” represents the best of America. After all, we are our better selves whenever we can accept each other’s differences and unite.
“You Can’t Take it With You,” dedicated to Dr. Mary Donahoe, Professor Emeritus, continues through Oct. 8 in the Creative Arts Center Festival Playhouse of Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Fairborn. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. The production runs 2 hours and 35 minutes with two intermissions. Tickets are $22 for adults and $20 students and seniors. For more information, call (937) 775-2500 or visit liberal-arts.wright.edu/theatre-dance-and-motion-pictures/box-office.