Long before the global financial meltdown, Occupy Wall Street, the 47 percent and the one percent, there were the Sycamores and the Kirbys, who had a lot to say about the role of money in our lives. You Can’t Take It With You, a charming and extremely funny play about star-crossed lovers, Alice Sycamore and Tony Kirby, is currently playing at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. This is the second production in the Asolo’s season called “The American Character,” following the wonderful staging of 1776 (see my review here).In this play, set toward the latter part of the Great Depression, the eccentric Sycamore clan lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, near Columbia University, and while away their days together doing whatever suits their fancy. Older sister Essie (Lindsey Tornquist) is a budding ballerina who can’t pirouette after eight years of lessons; her husband Ed (Joseph McGranaghan) loves to play the xylophone and print the menu for their nightly dinners of corn flakes and home-made candies; father Paul (David Breitbarth) enjoys reading Trostky and building fireworks in the basement; and mother Penny (Peggy Roeder) is an amateur playwright and painter obsessed with sex. The only two in the family who seem to have ventured below 103rd street are grandpa Martin Vanderhof and younger sister Alice.
Beautiful Alice (Brittany Proia) has fallen in love with Tony Kirby (Brendan Ragan), a delightful and witty young man whose father runs the company for which Alice works. Proia (who has a lovely voice when she belts out a love song while cavorting with Tony) and Ragan (who was equally charming in 2011’s Lobby Hero at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory when he was also paired with Proia) have great chemistry and create the kind of couple in Alice and Tony that you would love to have on your guest list for a successful dinner party. Alice is afraid that Tony’s straight-laced aristocratic father (veteran Asolo actor Douglas Jones, who can always be counted on for a stellar performance) and socialite mother (Gail Rastorfer, who has an upcoming appearance in The Heidi Chronicles) will be horrified by her nearly-certifiable family. But Tony is taken with the clan and is almost quirky enough to fit right in.The entire play is set in the insular world of the Sycamore household, but the call of Wall Street is ever-present. We learn that even the snake-collecting tax evader Grandpa Vanderhof (David S. Howard, who was so endearing in this role he made me heartsick for my own grandpa) was a successful financier who gave up his work decades ago when he realized it wasn’t making him happy. Grandpa sees a bit of himself in young Tony, who has joined the family business after “knocking around” a bit after college. When the Kirbys and Sycamores finally do meet, the families’ very different philosophies on life force a culture clash with hilarious implications. Among the best moments were Peggy’s suggestion that everyone play a game of word association, during which we learn that Mr. Kirby thinks of Wall Street during sex and spends much of his family time in the bathroom dealing with work-induced indigestion. The Sycamores have an unwitting manner of helping others understand themselves, and one gets the sense that, despite the Kirbys’ discomfort with the mayhem, spending time with the Sycamores is the most fun any of them has had in years.
You Can’t Take It With You is a light-hearted romp that lets us go back to a simpler time when anarchists and capitalists could sit down to dinner and the chasm between the one percent and everyone else could be breached with a parlor game and a sincere discussion of ideas. Or maybe, just maybe, I miss the Upper West Side. Either way, I highly recommend this engaging production playing through April 20. Tickets are available at asolorep.org.