Group Rep Unleashes Madcap Hijinks in this Beloved Classic Comedy

Brenda James. Photo courtesy Group Rep.

The Group Rep roars into summer with the beloved “You Can’t Take It With You,” a madcap comedy that has been entertaining folks on Broadway, in Repertory theatres, and at high schools near you since it premiered in 1936. .. or is it 1937?  An improbably eccentric family should be entertaining enough, but when Alice (Jessica Kent) the most level-headed sibling, falls in love with Tony Kirby (Ryan Rathbun), the scion of the head of a venerable law firm, the contrast between his and hers families sets mayhem in motion.

Written by Kaufman and Hart, maybe the most brilliant duo to make Americans laugh during the depression, the most noticeable aspect of the play nowadays is the HUGE cast!  Clearly, almost all of Broadway must have been employed in this show as the country slowly emerged from a world-wide depression.  At the heart of the play, the playwrights unlocked a reassuring message that money isn’t everything, and since few had any, anyway (audiences could watch for under $5.00), this was a welcome message.

To bring the point home, we meet the Sycamore family headed by Martin Vanderhoff (Lloyd Pedersen), affectionately known as Grandpa; Mrs. Sycamore, his daughter (Brenda James) and her inventive husband (Larry Toffler);the aforementioned Alice; her ballet-obsessed sister, Essie (Cassidy LeClair); and a score of hangers-on (almost) too numerous to mention, but suffice it to say,  in their roles as the maid and her handy-man boyfriend, Cynthia Bryant and Sammie Wayne, are important and effective.

Each of the supporting characters are eccentric in their own ways, and we get a bit of propaganda that resonates even today in the form of doorman Boris Kolenkhov (Danny Salay), a former Russian ballet-dance master and now Essie’s teacher, along with Grand Duchess Olga (Sara Shearer), now a cashier at Child’s Restaurant, who shows up to bake blintzes for the dinner designed to impress Tony’s parents, the wealthy Kirbys (Kevin Michael Moran and Lauren Faye). Needless to say, the eccentricities of the family make for a revolving door of fun… but one that might have profited from a little pruning of the script.  Director Leota Rhodes has made several brilliant enhancements to the proceedings: the first is the new act-break, set at a particularly hilarious moment in the middle of Act Two, followed by a meta-theatrical take out to the audience on the line, “After all, you can’t take it with you.!”  But two other interpolations demonstrating actions elsewhere while characters are describing them is just distracting.

With the marvelous setting by Mareli Mitchel-Shields, the brilliant, vaguely 30s costumes by Angela M. Eads, lighting and sound by Frank McKown and  Mikaela Padilla, respectively, and the cutest kittens on earth wrangled by Danica Waitley, this chestnut is still cracking.

You Can’t Take it With You continues at the Group Rep’s Lonny Chapman Theatre,  10900 Burbank Blvd, North Hollywood, 91601, running Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through July 7th, 2024. All Tickets, $35, with student and Sr. tickets at $30. For information, oand tickets call (818) 763-5990 or online: