Sunday, February 18, 2018

"You Can't Take It With You" at Lyric Arts

You can't take it with you. Meaning money, meaning when you die. What's the point of racking up piles of money at the expense of living? It's more important to rack up experiences and time spent doing the things you love with the people you love. At least that's the moral of the story in the classic play You Can't Take It With You, now playing at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in Anoka. This 80-year-old play may be a little dated and old-fashioned, and I don't really see the urgency of doing this play at this moment in time. And of course, it's a privileged class of people who can contemplate giving up their high-paying job to spend more time on their hobbies. That being said, this is still a charming, funny, and uplifting play, a good way to spend an evening and a good reminder to not overlook the important things in life.

It's 1937 New York, and the extended Sycamore family is about as eccentric as they come. Grandpa quit his job 35 years ago because he didn't enjoy it, and spends his time raising snakes and attending commencements. His daughter Penny and her husband Paul keep busy writing plays and making fireworks, respectively, while their daughter Essie, who lives in the house with xylophone-playing husband Ed, studies dance and makes candy. Various other oddball friends and employees fill the house, with daughter Alice as the only seemingly "normal" one. She works in an office on Wall Street, and falls in love with the boss' son. As you can imagine, when Alice brings Mr. Kirby and his conservative wealthy parents home to meet the family, much hilarity ensues. Will these two very different families ever make peace so that these two crazy kids can get hitched?*

the young couple: Tony and Alice (Grant Hooyer and
Jackie O'Neil, photo courtesy of Lyric Arts)
This wacky story plays out in a setting as eccentric as these characters, on an incredibly detailed set (designed by Brian J. Proball). So many tchotchkes, photos, and memorabilia clutter every corner of the space that I had the urge to walk around and take it all in. The well-loved and lived-in family living space includes a foyer (with the outside visible through a window), office area, dining room table, sitting area, staircase ascending to the second floor, and doors leading to the kitchen and basement. And all of these areas are well utilized as the huge cast moves around the tiny stage in organized chaos under director Adrian Lopez-Balbontin.

just a simple family dinner (photo courtesy of Lyric Arts)
The nearly 20-person cast works and plays well together, with not a weak link among them. Highlights include James Ramlet as Grandpa, the heart of the family; Gina Sauer and Robert Zalazar as the charmingly oddball parents; Ellie Herringshaw as Essie, constantly dancing and flitting around the house; Michael Conroy as her husband Ed, who plays a mean xylophone; Bill Williamson as the tactless friend who helps out with anything from making firecrackers to posing for paintings; Don Maloney as the volatile Russian dance teacher; Grant Hooyer, as debonair as a Kennedy as the young Mr. Kirby; and Jackie O'Neil as Alice, torn between the love of her eccentric family and the desire for a "normal" life with Tony.

This is a big show and a big cast, and Lyric Arts does a great job with it, bringing out the heart and humor of this wacky family that loves each other and allows each other to be their true selves, no matter how odd that might seen to the outside world. You Can't Take It With You continues through March 4.

*Plot summary borrowed from what I wrote about the Jungle production a few years ago.