Fireworks exploding with a strange Russian dance teacher and a raving drunk woman would be enough to scare away anyone from a family dinner. However, characters more than make up for their oddities in the lovable play, “You Can’t Take it With You.”
On Thursday night, University Theatre housed a considerable crowd of patrons for the opening night of the delightful comedy. The 1936 play by George Kaufman and Moss Hart is about a young woman’s ridiculous, but well-meaning family. When her fiancé’s conservative family comes to dinner for the first time, light-hearted mayhem promptly ensues.
Immediately the set was, in a word, impressive. While waiting in the audience, a large screen cycled through pictures of the 1930s to the tune of swing music. However, the obstruction masked the articulate set work that lay behind it.
When the play started, the scene lifted to reveal a perfectly-constructed living room area that reached back into a separated kitchen and doorway. It was furnished completely in accurate 1930s style, with a vintage refrigerator and quirky, yet intricate furnishings. The audience could really feel at home in the world of the Sycamore family.
No set, no matter how amazing, would be complete without the warmth of characters living in it. And with a play entirely centered on the unity of family, this was crucial. Luckily, “You Can’t Take It With You” had a cast full of characters and chemistry.
Kelsey Kaisershot played Penelope Sycamore, the sweet mother of the show. Kaisershot nailed the embarrassing mother role in an overly-friendly, air-headed sort of way. She was hilarious with her unconscious actions of patting Mr. Kirby (the finance’s father) on the back and her well-timed scandalous remarks.
Another character, with a similar innocent quality, was Essie, played by Brittany R. Handler. The younger sister of the primary character (Alice), Handler showcased a high ability for physical comedy, while constantly “dancing” awkwardly around the stage.
There were also a few notable performances that came from non-CU students acting in the show. CU Theatre and Dance Department Chair Bud Coleman played the extremely memorable and entertaining Boris Kolenkhov, Essie’s Russian dance teacher. A loud presence on stage, Coleman used his expressive hand movements when condemning Stalin, and generally stole some of the funniest moments.
Colorado Shakespeare Festival veteran Sam Sandoe joined the cast to play the wise and free-spirited Martin Vanderhof, the show’s grandpa, who decided to quit working to enjoy the happiness of life. Sandoe’s experience was clear as he delivered lines with an easy sensibility and effortless comedic timing. He easily maintained his position as the necessary rock for the chaotic family.
Other performers who stole surprising moments of hilarity were Alison Banowsky and Haydn Winston XVIII. Banowsky made an unexpected appearance in Act II as Gay Wellington, a drunken, gaudy actress. Her shrieking outburst and sloppy trajectory for the sofa had the audience filling the room with laughter.
Winston, on the other hand, played the reserved businessman, Mr. Kirby. The character required Winston to be overly restrained, while maintaining his mild and polite demeanor. Though Winston displayed incredible acting talent to maintain this manner, his moments of brief, released anger were well-timed and very funny.
Strangely, the show took a turn for the worse – not during the play, but during the intermission. In keeping with the 1930s style, the play featured a three-member vaudeville act that performed short skits. However, the skits seemed like a strange afterthought, with little discernable action happening on stage. It seemed as if the audience was unsure when or if to applaud.
Despite this minor confusion, the play kept up its high energy and positive attitude right through the end. With touching moments about living for happiness instead of money and accepting love no matter what, “You Can’t Take it With You” is nothing less than a timeless and instantly-enjoyable comedy.
“You Can’t Take it With You” runs April 7 through April 9 and April 13 through April 16. Tickets are $12 for students and can be purchased at the University Theatre building box office.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Stephanie Riesco at Stephanie.firstname.lastname@example.org.