PAYSON — I cannot think of any better way to spend an evening than seeing a comedic play put on by energetic, engaging performers. And this is just what you can experience at Payson Community Theatre’s new production of You Can’t Take it With You.
You Can’t Take It With You play is one that has stood the test of time. Written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, You Can’t Take it With You, was first performed in 1936 and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Later, it became a Best Picture-winning film in 1938 directed by Frank Capra and starring Jean Arthur, James Stewart and Lionel Barrymore. With such a pedigree, one might wonder how the play will hold up to a 2023 audience. The truth is, I enjoyed it, for the most part. You Can’t Take It With You is a cute comedy about a wacky family, and the talented cast at PCT has created a great show.
The story of You Can’t Take it With You is focused on the shenanigans of the Vanderhof-Sycamore family living in a large old house in New York City. The set for the entire show is the main floor of the home, and the level of detail set coordinator Perry Ewell has put into creating three separate rooms on the large Payson High School stage is very impressive. The audience gets to see a full dining room, living room and study with a staircase and outside doorway. Each area is an important part of the story and brings the old house to life. The technical director LeEarl Peck and sound director James-Robbie Ewell contributed to the technical excellence with the fireworks effects (a combination of sound and smoke) in Act 2. The moment delivers the laughs for such an outlandish scene.
Director Jan S. Hunsaker says in the program that she met her husband when they were playing Olga and Kholenkov in You Can’t Take it With You, and that closeness to the material is apparent in her direction. The actors passionately deliver their lines and move across the stage with determination, and Hunsaker has worked hard to help them become a close on-stage family.
Nettie Knudsen has the straight-woman role as young Alice, who at the beginning has started dating rich son of a banker Tony Kirby (played by Dylan Jack with a lot of charisma in the role.) She is reticent to introduce Tony to her family because they are quite eccentric. There is Alice’s grandfather (played excellently by Bill Brown, though I wish they would turn up his microphone a little more) who loves snakes and refuses to pay takes. Then her mother, Penelope (played delightfully by Marian Scadden), who writes racy plays and her father, who is a pyromaniac who shoots off fireworks in the basement. Adding to that is a sister Essie (played by Carrie Alba) who makes candy and dreams of being a ballerina and many more crazy characters, and the play ends up being a good time.
The cast is large with 17 credited parts, and they play off each other quite well. My favorite gag of the show is an extended sequence where they play a free association game where Penelope gives some saucy words like “lust” and “honeymoon,” and Tony’s parents give all-too-awkward responses. Another funny segment is when the IRS agent shows up instead of Tony looking for Grandpa and his back taxes. How that situation is all resolved is quite outrageous and very silly, but I enjoyed it.
It is always surprising when shows and movies from the 1930s are spicier than I expect them to be, and that is certainly the case here. I suppose that is one reason why You Can’t Take It With You holds up well: it does not feel overly wholesome or saccharine. The play has three acts and clocks in at over 2 hours, and I wish that some of the pacing were improved.
You Can’t Take it With You at PCT is the kind of old-fashioned family comedy that would make for a great date night or memorable time out with family and friends. The shenanigans are big, loud and full of madcap fun. I’d say it’s definitely worth a watch. Not every character works, and not every gag is funny but enough to make me laugh, but the actors’ terrific chemistry and energy see the audience through the show’s slow parts. I certainly recommend that readers see this show before it closes on Saturday.