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[whitespace] 'You Can't Take It With You'
Hesitant Under Glass: The Sycamores try to stop a family friend (Luis Oropeza) from further insulting Alice's future father-in-law (Robert Rossman).

Family Values

Blood ties bind in TheatreWorks' 'You Can't Take It With You'

By Heather Zimmerman

ALTHOUGH George Kaufman and Moss Hart's 1936 comedy You Can't Take It With You is entrenched in carpe diem themes, the play's affectionate portrait of the eccentric Sycamore family also demonstrates that family is something that can't be taken from you (no matter how hard you may try). The play's message about those ties that bind is pretty much the same as any Christmas carol's, so You Can't Take It With You allows TheatreWorks to celebrate the holidays this year minus the evergreen boughs and faux snow (the play is set in midsummer).

Not that her loving relatives mind, but Alice Sycamore (Julie Eccles) is the black sheep of her family: she works for a Wall Street banking firm and dates Tony Kirby (Mark Phillips), the boss' son (though for love, not money). Eccles is convincingly conflicted as Alice, who adores her family but fears they will alienate Tony and his upper-class parents. Phillips and Eccles have a wonderful, bumblingly love-struck chemistry together.

George Ward beautifully pulls off the role of Alice's grandfather, "Grandpa" Martin Vanderhof (George Ward), a kind of free-spirited guru to the Sycamores: he once worked on Wall Street too until he quit one day and spent the next 35 years "relaxing." Joan Mankin brings a good blend of overeagerness and kindness to Penny Sycamore, Alice's mother. Ron Evans imparts a warmheartedness to Alice's single-minded father, Paul Sycamore, who devotes his time to building fireworks with Mr. DePinna (Bill Badger), the iceman who came and never left. Perhaps a bit too self-conscious about their characters' intended zaniness are Tara Blau as the Sycamores' other daughter, Essie, and Garrett Lowe as her husband, Ed. Culture clash is guaranteed when Alice and Tony become engaged, and Tony's society parents (Robert Rossman and Vicki Young, playing at classic screwball stodginess) come to dinner at the Sycamores'.

Although it's a well-loved classic, You Can't Take It With You hasn't aged as well as some other Kaufman and Hart plays. Though we're made to understand that the family members, with their good friendship with their black housekeeper, Rheba (Elizabeth Carter), and her boyfriend, Donald (Norman Gee), might have been ahead of their time, nothing about this aspect of the play seems very enlightened now. Carter and Gee look vaguely horrified at their " 'Sho 'nuff, yas'm" dialogue and no wonder--it's hard to imagine that these characters were once considered funny.

Fortunately, the play is not a complete anachronism: its freewheeling ideology and celebration of family ties are likely what has made it such a long-standing favorite. Grandpa's philosophy of doing what makes you happy takes on added resonance during the holidays, and his trite but true "money can't buy happiness" assertions seem doubly apropos in Silicon Valley. And if nothing else, the eccentricities of the Sycamores still offer enough laughs that maybe they'll make holiday dinner with your relatives seem a little more normal this year.


You Can't Take It With You plays Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm (Dec. 18 at 2pm) and Sunday at 2 and 7pm through Jan. 2 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets are $20-$37. (650.903.6000)

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From the December 9-15, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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