By Pat Launer
The Sycamores really know how to live. “Life’s pretty simple if you just relax,” says Grandpa. “All we ask is to go along and be happy in our own sort of way.”
Each member of the family blows with the wind (or, as the late mythologist Joseph Campbell put it, they “follow their bliss”).
Penny (Deborah Gilmour Smyth) became a playwright when a typewriter was erroneously delivered one day. The guy who showed up to deliver ice (Danny Campbell) is still there after eight years (the milkman was there for five). Penny’s daughter, Essie (Lauren King Thompson), a budding ballerina and inveterate candy-maker, pirouettes around the house while her husband, Ed (Jon Lorenz), accompanies her on marimba — when he isn’t printing on his mini-press whatever random phrases he hears. Penny’s husband, Paul (Steve Gunderson) is in the basement making firecrackers. Rheba (Andréa Agosto) cooks, and her boyfriend (Bryan Barbarin) runs errands. Drifting in and out of this mirthful madhouse are a pontificating Russian dance instructor (John Polhamus), a drunken actress (Eileen Bowman), a Russian Princess (Bowman again) who now works at a local restaurant, and an assortment of government employees (Jeffrey Jones, Brian Rickel, Carrie Heath), gunning for trouble with this singularly untroubled clan.
In the midst of all the mayhem, love improbably blooms. Alice (Megan Carmitchel) is the only Sycamore with a job, and she’s fallen for her boss’s son (Jesse Abeel), who adores her, though he comes from strait-laced patrician parentage (John Rosen, Cynthia Gerber). When the families meet, sparks fly (and not just from errant fireworks).
This is the hilarious setup of the timeless 1937 Pulitzer Prize-winner by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. It’s 1936 in New York City. The country is just emerging from the Depression. But the downturn never touched Grandpa (Jim Chovick); he left his high-stress job 35 years ago and, never looking back, he’s been happy ever since.
Happiness is the buzzword here. The message comes through loud and clear: get off that gerbil wheel; just relax and enjoy life. Do what you love and the rest will follow. It’s a reminder that never goes out of style.
Lamb’s Players Theatre is revisiting the show that was a hit for them 18 years ago, and impossible as it may seem, this version is even better. Kerry Meads reprises her directing role, and keeps things moving at a bouncy clip. Chovick is back as the irrepressible and lovable patriarch and, like him, the rest of the cast is just about flawless. Since this is a script filled with eccentrics and non sequiturs, it’s a character actor’s dream. Each one polishes a little gem of a role to a high sheen (only Agosto hasn’t quite made Rheba a standout yet; Cashae Monya will put her stamp on the role starting 3/3).
The wood-and-Oriental rug set (Mike Buckley) is expansive and detailed (off-the-wall tchotchkes abound, thanks to prop-mistress Rachel Hengst). The costumes (Jemima Dutra) are perfectly character-defining. The lighting (Nathan Peirson) and sound (Robert Smyth) complement the proceedings.
This household may make yours look dreary and humdrum. But if the Sycamores inspire you to do something wild and crazy, they’ve succeeded — and so has the play (which should run forever).
- “You Can’t Take It With You” runs through March 29 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado
- Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
- Tickets ($22-$72) are available at 619-437-6000 or online at lambsplayers.org
- Running time: 2 hrs. 15 min.
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at www.patteproductions.com.