Playwright: Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman. At: Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. Tickets: 847-673-6300; www.northlight.org; $25-$79. Runs through: Dec. 13
You Can't Take It with Youa warm-hearted play which once was ubiquitous via countless community theater, college and high school productionswon the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. I suspect millennials are far less familiar with it, even though it concerns the 99 percent, and I'm not certain this Northlight production gives the play its full value, as sincere as it is.
Set during The Depression, it centers on a romance between socially mismatched Tony Kirby ( Bernie Balbot ), son of a Wall Street tycoon, and Alice Sycamore ( Lucy Carapetyan ), daughter of an eccentric family, headed by grandfather Martin Vanderhof ( John Judd ) who walked away from a successful business career 35 years earlier to "have fun." Now three generations of the extended family have fun, ineptly pursuing ballet, painting, writing and music along with cottage industries in handmade candies and fireworks. When Tony brings his formally dressed parents to dinner, all hell breaks loose as the fireworks explode and everyone is arrested. Of course, true love wins out.
The production is filled with pleasing, warm and/or funny performances by an A-list of Chicago actors ( Hollis Resnik, Patrick Clear, Penny Slusher, Brad Armacost, Jenny Avery and Sean Fortunato, to name several ), so it took some time to understand what wasn't working for me. It finally hit me. Director Devon De Mayo makes the same mistake Frank Capra made in his misguided ( albeit Oscar-winning ) film adaptation: She interprets the Vanderhof/Sycamore household as lower-class and, to a degree, ignorant, which isn't so. Written for the middle-class/upper-middle-class audience of 1930s Broadway, the play wouldn't have been successful if that original audienceand thousands since thendid not see itself reflected onstage.
Martin Vanderhof is an educated man who had money in the bank when he abandoned his career. He owns a comfortable house in a historically respectable New York City 'hood. He demonstrates several times that he knows how the world works, presiding over a clan that doesn't make money in customary ways but nonetheless earns a living and employs hired help. His granddaughter, Alice, pursues a business career because it pleases her, presumably, which is Grandpa's only rule ( other than the unstated Golden Rule ). The household's key quality is tolerancebordering on foolishness sometimesnot ignorance. Costuming Grandpa in suspenders and open-collar shirt, instead of the customary tie and jacket, creates a mistaken social identity and makes a huge difference in his role as a loving authority figure for the family. If the family is working class, the disparity with the Kirbys simply is too great.
Even so, You Can't Take It with You still is a family-friendly charmer. Those unfamiliar with it should see it, rather than worry about interpretation.