Theatre Review: You Can’t Take It With You
It is a pleasure to see Soulpepper Theatre’s superb production of You Can’t Take It With You, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American comedy by Kaufman and Hart. And knowing that this very special offering will run in repertory in the Distillery District into the middle of June, only adds to the happiness.
The pedigree of its creators certainly increases interest in the play: Moss Hart was a giant of Broadway during the middle of the 20th century. His co-author George S. Kaufman was an even larger figure both on Broadway and in Hollywood, famous for writing, amongst other things, two of the Marx Brothers’ earliest Broadway plays: Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. One might call Kaufman the Woody Allen of the first six decades of the last century, and one of the funniest artists of the past millennium.
Is You Can’t Take It With You dated? Of course. The play reeks of the 1930s: the end of Prohibition, the agonies of The Great Depression, the disaster of communism. But is it still relevant? For the most part, yes. Most of the jokes are still surprisingly fresh, especially when they are directed with perfect timing by Joseph Ziegler, and performed by some of the best actors working in Canada today.
Dangerously, the play mixes comedy with great gobs of sentimentality and even gooey, awkward young love. It is a risky combination, and one you will either love or hate. You may even resent the long lecture in the play’s last few minutes, given by the Grandpa of the Sycamore family (played by the brilliant comic actor Eric Peterson).
Enjoy life, we are told; follow your passions; don’t pay your taxes because the government will only waste your money; make your life one of non-stop pleasure — after all, you can’t take it with you. That’s such a great line: you feel a swell of delight shoot through the audience when the title of this classic is almost tossed off by Grandpa.
Frank Capra, the occasionally magnificent Hollywood director (It’s a Wonderful Life), chose to direct a movie version of this great Kaufman and Hart comedy, and it was pretty good. But even the gifted Capra couldn’t find stars with the magic of Soulpepper’s Krystin Pellerin (as Alice, the young female love interest), Maria Vacratsis (Olga, a financially struggling Russian duchess) or Diego Matamoros (who almost steals the show as an exiled Russian dance teacher).
You Can’t Take It With You contains some of the funniest lines ever written for American theatre, and the packed opening night audience was often howling uncontrollably. The running gags of Grandpa keeping pet snakes, fireworks going off in the basement and the borderline-insane Sycamore family and their boarders (the mother of which is well-played by Nancy Palk) provide a steady stream of laughs.
You Can’t Take It With You is certainly not one of the “greatest stories” that Soulpepper is mandated to produce, but I’m so glad I experienced this true American classic by Kaufman and Hart. And for all its dated gags, you’ll have a grand ol’ time. Go!
Young Centre for Performing Arts, 55 Mill St., 416-866-8666. To June 21.