Long before the Addams and the Simpsons and the Bradys, American comedyís first dysfunctional family was the Vanderhofs. In 1936, when the clan originally materialized on Broadway in "You Canít Take It With You," their screwball behavior titillated a Depression-burdened public. But todayís audiences, accustomed to pistol-packing juveniles, find nothing eccentric in a wanna-be inventorís obsession with making dangerous fireworks in the basement.
Therefore, most revivals of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hartís classic tend to camp it up. However, the Colony Studio Theatre has taken "You Canít Take It With You" straight. Director David Rose refuses to get cute or farcical, leading his first-rate ensemble through the antique three-act format and cluttered plotting as if it were serious business. The result is a beautifully rendered, unexpectedly poignant, Capraesque charmer - the perfect holiday family play.
Resembling a genial Santa Claus, an expert Stuart Lancaster interprets Grandpa Martin Vanderhof as a shrewd philosopher who wisely dropped out of Wall Street long ago.
Granddaughter Alice (a lovely Denise Dillard) hopes to marry the bossís son Tony (Chris VanVleet, nicely underplayed). Her goal is to keep secret the Vanderhofís "un-American" behavior. "My mother writes plays because eight years ago a typewriter was delivered here by mistake,"Alice moans. Her fatherís in the basement, making explosives that periodically blow up. And her sister practices ballet continuously and egregiously - in the living room.
When potential father-in-law Mr. Kirby (a sublime William Dennis Hunt) arrives on the wrong night, surprising the Vanderhofs in full zaniness - well, you get the picture. What can go wrong, does go wrong.
But itís not the complex plot that makes this production so compelling. Nor is it the opulent set design by Hap Lawrence, the exquisite period costumes by Ted C. Glammona, or even the stunning dance of 17 actors seamlessly maneuvering an intimate living room. What makes this so warm and inviting is its shameless sentimentality.
"Lifeís pretty simple if you just relax," believes Grandpa. "Thereís a bright side to everything."
No wonder Frank Capra directed
the movie version. Just as Kaufman and Hart achieved in 1936 - spiritual
relief from a debilitating Depression - so has the Colony in 1993. You
can take it, insists the revival, and survive the recession. Itís a wonderful
Copyright 1993 Los Angeles