`Can't Take It With You' starts slowly, picks up pace in Act II

February 10, 2000|By Nelson Pressley | Nelson Pressley,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Campus and community theater groups have long known that you can't beat "You Can't Take It With You."

The student/alumni group at Howard Community College staged the play barely two months ago, and now the Columbia Community Players are presenting the 1936 comedy through this weekend at Slayton House in Wilde Lake Village Green.

The two productions couldn't be more different. The HCC show took a go-for-broke approach, finding ways to insert Marx Brothers madness into the action. On the other hand, director Marla Blasko's staging for the Community Players takes the eccentricities of the play's characters for granted.

This makes for slow going in the first act. But when the assorted nuts of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's comedy are unexpectedly visited by a strait-laced Wall Street clan in the madcap second act, the Community Players production hits its stride.

The plot is simple.

Young Alice Sycamore (Mary Ann McAllister) wants to marry handsome Tony Kirby (Steve Naime). But she's afraid that her family (the oddballs) won't get along with his (the sticks-in-the-mud).

The audience always knows better, of course.

What's not to like about Alice's mother, Penny (Kathy Capelle), who blissfully writes and paints without ever finishing anything? Or Alice's father, Paul (Tom Schneider), who makes fireworks in the basement with Mr. DePinna (Steve Teller) -- a guest who has stayed for eight years?

The household is a harmless, charming menagerie.

Alice's sister, Essie (Regina Laberge), is a horrible ballerina despite years of training. Essie's Russian ballet teacher, Boris Kolenkhov (Stephen Bruun), says of Essie's talents, "Confidentially, she stinks!"

Essie probably wouldn't mind even if she knew that she stinks as a dancer (as it is, she wonders why everyone thinks Ginger Rogers is so good).

The point is, she's having fun. All of the Vanderhofs are; that's the philosophy they've learned from their patriarch, Martin Vanderhof (Bob Hollins).

Gentle old Vanderhof -- everyone calls him "Grandpa" -- quit his government job years ago, figuring it was more important to enjoy life than toil unhappily day in and day out. As a subplot, the Internal Revenue Service is after the nonconformist, saying he owes back taxes. Guess who wins that dispute?

This is a feel-good comedy that advises Americans to relax, be a little wacky, take a break from all that Wall Street stuff. It's great fun for a big cast to play, and Blasko's actors clearly enjoy themselves while not forcing the humor.

McAllister and Naime are warm and sensible as the young lovers, while Alan Peterkofsky and Phyllis Kay are suitably gray figures as Tony's parents.

Hollis' Vanderhof is appropriately kindly, though not exactly the serene, Buddha-like presence the patriarch can be. That might be in part because Blasko and set designer William Brown don't give Hollis a chair in the Vanderhof living room, a place where Grandpa can be the calm at the center of the storm -- a design concept that's usually a staple in this play.

The actors playing Alice's flaky family perform with quiet attentiveness to their characters' passions.

Irene Patton, as a drunken actress named Gay Wellington, and Bruun's Kolenkhov provide comic sparks in the second act.

They help this show make its transition from being pleasant to being genuinely funny.

Columbia Community Players will present "You Can't Take It With You" at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday at Slayton House in Wilde Lake Village Green. Tickets are $10; $9 for students and senior citizens. Call 410-637-5289.

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