A fun-loving family, a lesson on living

Play: 2nd Star Productions aptly evokes the Depression era in its version of "You Can't Take It With You" at Bowie Playhouse

Arundel Live

March 16, 2000|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Anyone who wants to know why a play becomes a classic will get a good idea by seeing 2nd Star Productions' version of the Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman 1936 comedy "You Can't Take It With You."

Running at Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park, the madcap play takes the audience back to a simpler time, drawing them into a family circle of carefree eccentrics who do what they want.

Homeowner and head of the family is grandfather Martin Vanderhof, who quit his job 35 years ago when he decided to pursue more interesting activities like attending random commencement exercises at nearby colleges. Freethinking Vanderhof hasn't paid his taxes in 23 years.

His daughter, Penny Sycamore, is a free-spirited artist who stopped painting and took up writing incomplete plays when a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to the house eight years ago.

Her husband, Paul Sycamore, spends his time building fireworks in the basement. His colleague Mr. De Pinna helps him, having joined the family eight years ago when he delivered ice at their house.

The Sycamores have two daughters. Essie is a would-be ballerina and candy maker who is married to Ed, who plays the xylophone and prints political messages on the basement printing press, then inserts them into boxes of Essie's candy that he peddles in the neighborhood.

Levelheaded daughter Alice is the only working member of the family. Alice is in love with Tony Kirby, son of a Wall Street company owner. After Tony asks Alice to marry him, they decide their families should meet at a dinner party held by the Sycamores. When the uptight, socially prominent Kirbys meet the eccentric, free-spirited Sycamores, hilarity reigns.

The message of this Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy, that people should enjoy themselves, is as compelling today as it was in its Depression-era beginnings. The Sycamores encourage one another to do whatever pleases them, whether they have talent for it or not.

Tony Kirby brings his parents to dinner at the Sycamore home a day early. Happy with the Sycamores' acceptance of one another, Tony wants to expose his parents to "a real family." Flustered by the Kirbys' unexpected arrival, Penny tries to salvage dinner by sending out for beer, frankfurters, canned salmon and Campbell's soup -- fare that appalls the Kirbys. Dinner hasn't begun when pandemonium ensues: Police arrive with the FBI to investigate the family's suspicious activities and take everyone off to jail.

After this fiasco, Alice decides to leave her family and Tony, who try to persuade her to stay. All ends well with Grandpa explaining the benefits of a freer lifestyle to Mr. Kirby, convincing him that the zany family might enjoy life more than his hard-working one.

There are a number of eccentric visitors at the Sycamore home; Russian ballet teacher Boris Kolenkhov stays for dinner each night after giving lessons to Essie, and Rheba is the maid who prepares corn-flake dinners.

All 31 of the actors in 2nd Star's cast do well with their roles. Grandfather Vanderhof, played by Martin Hayes, starts out as a bit senile and gains wisdom and certainty as he provides a common-sense philosophy that is hard to dispute. Joan Ashwell is a delight as the free-spirited, meddling mother, Penny.

Edward Kuhl's portrayal of Paul Sycamore is properly bungling and blustering. Nancy Dall is a knockout as frustrated ballerina Essie, so marvelously clumsy that she has to be a trained dancer.

Karen Eske makes the prosaic role of Alice interesting, gaining audience sympathy for her character's concerns. As Tony Kirby, Dan Kavanaugh brings substance to another prosaic character surrounded by eccentrics. Richard Blomuist gives a solid performance as Mr. Kirby, and Mary Groom's portrayal of Mrs. Kirby is a comic delight.

Lesser roles are transformed into comic gems by Shenna Ross, Al Chopey, Jerry Katcheressian and Heather Tuckfield.

The Sycamore living room set draws the audience in, welcoming and authentic in every detail. Perfectly furnished with antiques pulled from company members' living rooms, the set is a masterpiece.

"You Can't Take It With You" continues through April 1. More information is available at www.2ndstarproductions.com. For reservations: 410-757-5700.

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