'You Can't Take It With You' a delight at Northlight

  • Penelope Sycamore (Penny Slusher), left, and her daughter, Essie (Joanne Dubach), make Tony Kirby (Bernie Balbot) uncomfortable by asking personal questions in "You Can't Take It With You" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. The Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman continues through Sunday, Dec. 13.

    Penelope Sycamore (Penny Slusher), left, and her daughter, Essie (Joanne Dubach), make Tony Kirby (Bernie Balbot) uncomfortable by asking personal questions in "You Can't Take It With You" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. The Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman continues through Sunday, Dec. 13. COURTESY OF MICHAEL BROSILOW/NORTHLIGHT THEATRE

  • The drunken actress Miss Wellington (Hollis Resnik), right, boasts about her credits to Penelope Sycamore (Penny Slusher), left, Martin "Grandpa" Vanderhof (John Judd) and Donald (Samuel Roberson) in "You Can't Take It With You" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.

    The drunken actress Miss Wellington (Hollis Resnik), right, boasts about her credits to Penelope Sycamore (Penny Slusher), left, Martin "Grandpa" Vanderhof (John Judd) and Donald (Samuel Roberson) in "You Can't Take It With You" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. COURTESY OF MICHAEL BROSILOW/NORTHLIGHT THEATRE

  • Members of the eccentric Sycamore family and their guests pursue artistic hobbies in "You Can't Take It With You" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. The Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman continues through Sunday, Dec. 13.

    Members of the eccentric Sycamore family and their guests pursue artistic hobbies in "You Can't Take It With You" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. The Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman continues through Sunday, Dec. 13. COURTESY OF MICHAEL BROSILOW/NORTHLIGHT THEATRE

 
 
Posted11/18/2015 8:00 AM

"You Can't Take It With You" has endured through the decades, and Northlight Theatre's hilarious revival in Skokie shows why.

Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1936 comedy is chock-full of lovably eccentric characters who would easily fit into any modern-day TV sitcom. Also still relevant are the show's heartwarming messages about family, creativity and the precious brevity of life.

 

Yet nowadays you're more likely to see "You Can't Take It With You" on community theater or high school stages. In fact, National Public Radio and Dramatics magazine recently crunched the numbers to discover that this show and Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" have remained the two most-produced plays in American high schools since the 1940s.

The most probable reason why professional "You Can't Take It With You" productions are such rarities is the expense of a large ensemble. Northlight deploys a cast of 17 for its production, and two of those actors have to double up on roles. You won't mind, though, since Hollis Resnik delivers two comic cameos as a drunkard actress and a member of the Russian nobility that are textbook examples of scene stealing.

Director Devon De Mayo's sometimes unconventional casting makes Northlight's production a delight throughout. Anyone familiar with the play through amateur productions will marvel at how much better professionals can be at finessing and consistently delivering the comic material to prod audiences into gales of laughter.

The main conflict is fairly basic: a romance between Alice Sycamore (a no-nonsense Lucy Carapetyan) and her employer's son, Tony Kirby (a boyish Bernie Balbot), causes two wildly different families to collide. The Kirbys are emblematic of stuffy and moneyed New York society, while the artistically inclined Sycamores are all-accepting and unconventional extroverts.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The story, however, is secondary. The play's true pleasure lie in just spending quality time with the extended Sycamore family and the wacky people who get pulled into their off-kilter orbit. The core family includes amateur playwriting mother Penelope (a daffy Penny Slusher), her fireworks-obsessed husband, Paul (an enthusiastic Brad Armacost), the philosophizing and sage-like Martin "Grandpa" Vanderhof (an easygoing John Judd), wannabe ballet dancer Essie (Joanne Dubach, in hilarious perpetual motion) and her easily distracted hobbyist husband, Ed Carmichael (an ever-earnest Andy Nagraj).

Supporting (or in some cases sponging off) the Sycamores are the opinionated ballet teacher Boris Kolenkhov (Sean Fortunato with an amusing Russian accent), Paul's dedicated assistant Mr. De Pinna (an absent-minded Keith Neagle), the cook Rheba (a cheery Erika Ratcliff) and her injured boyfriend, Donald (Samuel Roberson). These guests all contrast nicely to the wealthy hauteur of Tony's parents, Anthony and Miriam Kirby (the appropriately imperious Patrick Clear and Jenny Avery).

Northlight's production design matches the play's unconventional characters. Set designer Courtney O'Neill has fashioned a cluttered home with a riot of oddly patterned wallpaper, while Izumi Inaba has loads of fun with costumes ranging from a prissy ballerina to a Roman centurion. Lighting designer Heather Gilbert also gets to shine, especially when offstage fireworks go off at a climatic point.

"You Can't Take It With You" probably won't shake its reputation as an old-fashioned comedic chestnut. But Northlight's lovely revival is a great reminder of why people keep returning to this family comedy.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.