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'You Can't Take It With You' But You Sure Can Enjoy It

Timeless play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart on stage now at Asolo Rep.

If you flip on the TV to the cable news channels, it's amazing you're not on the floor crying sometimes at the doom and gloom about the economy, unemployment and war.

Instead we forge on. Some of us may stress trying to make ends meet, others are in a position to just cut costs on others to make their profits in line with what they want, and then there are timeless families like the Vanderhofs and Sycamores in "You Can't Take It With You" who like to enjoy the ride and stir the pot as the country itself is going to a different kind of pot.

The 1937 Pulitzer Prize-winning play is being staged now at Asolo Repertory Theatre through April 20 as part of the theater's American Character season series.

It's an uplifting play that helps serve as a distraction from all this mess we're in when a Depression-era family figures if you don't have the money to enjoy life, well, enjoy life anyway because it's short and you only have one.

The thing is, this family isn't impoverished. They do fairly well for a middle class family during the Depression, even having a maid to set the table, get the door and cook the grandest of dinners featuring corn flakes and candy. 

The play, directed by Peter Amster, features a lovably weird family that includes a hobbyist housewife Penny Sycamore who was either destined to write "Fifty Shades of Grey" or become the next family painter. Penny is played by Peggy Roeder, who has this youthful and mischievous Betty White quality about her as this character. You know, innocent looking mother who's bound to surprise you with what's going to come out of her mouth. 

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It really comes through during a game of word association when the Kirby family comes over for dinner one night, as Peggy provides "lust" and "sex" as suggestions and also hosts a drunken actress over to read through lines. Oh, boy.

Now, I know you're thinking of either Marilyn Monroe or Lindsay Lohen when you read drunken actress (Gay Wellington played by Kelly Campbell). Think more of Kristen Wiig's 1920s character Lilia on Saturday Night Live  who pleads "don't make me sing." 

What does the rest of the family do? Make and blow up fireworks, have fun printing odd things on a printing press and for Alice Sycamore, fall in love. This is where the class division comes in as she falls in love with a richer man, tries to hide her freewheeling family, but fails for the sake of comedy.

During opening night, I'm not quite sure if it was a failed prop or intentional, but Joseph McGranaghan, who plays Ed Carmichael, plays the xylophone as part of the character's hobbies. He plays the xylophone quite well, but the ball on the one mallet kept flying off. It played well to the scenes and if it was a prop fail, he handled it remarkably well. At times he'd even play the songs with one hand to get through the scene.  

Same goes for actors David Breitbach (Paul Sycamore) and Francisco Rodriguez (Mr. De Pinna) who hope that the match lights on the first try to set off the fireworks, and they if they strike the match, it doesn't fly out into the audience or burn down the theater. 

The wisdom in all of this comes from the grandfather, Martin Vanderhof, played by David Howard, who tells Mr. Kirby that all that money he has won't do him any good after he's gone. "You can't take it with you," he says.

Vanderhof, though, it making sure the government doesn't take income taxes from him, and the IRS sure does try. 

Howard delivers the lines appropriately dry to not over-do it, letting the funny speak for itself, and he has this endearing quality, too, resembling a softer, miniature Ed Asner.

But my favorite in all of this has to be Eric Hissom as Boris Kolenkhov—the Russian ballet instructor who visits to give Essie Carmichael lessons. The part calls for a hyperbole of a stereotypical Russian, and he nails it. Great fake old timey Russian accent—better than Peggy on those Discover commercials.

The actors do a great job on interpreting this classic play that will always do well when times are tough. And it won't cost you a fortune to see it either. Tickets start at $20.  

You Can't Take It With You

Performances:

2 p.m. on Jan. 26, 27, Feb. 7, 10, 13, 20 and 28, March 30, April 2, 7 and 20

7:30 p.m. on Jan. 22, Feb. 5 and April 16

8 p.m. on  Jan. 12 and 30, March 6, 8, 16, 21, 23, April 10, 11, and 19.

Cost: $20 to $72

Ticket Info: 941-351-8000 | www.asolorep.org, Box Office | 5555 N. Tamiami Trail

Meet The Actors: 

Feb. 10 following the 2 p.m. matinee 

Inside Asolo Rep

11 a.m. to noon, Jan. 30 — Cook Theatre

Features directer Peter Amster and other creative artists from the production to reveal what goes on behind the curtain

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