Couple in love links mismatched families [Review]

The hilarious Sycamore family presided over by Grandpa Vanderhof is making a comeback in Laurel Mill Playhouse's current showing of "You Can't Take It With You," by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

The comedy premiered at the Booth Theater in Manhattan in 1936 and won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A year later, Robert Riskin adapted the script to the Oscar-winning film starring Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, Jimmy Stewart and Edward Arnold.

The Playhouse presented "You Can't Take It With You" once before in 2008, produced then (and now) by Artistic Director and Public Liaison Maureen Rogers, of Laurel. Rising director Patrick Pase has assembled a brand new cast for the current production.

Pase designed set and tech; both are well executed. A bland color scheme and mismatched furniture create the locale for curious plot devices like an aquarium filled with pet snakes (they're not real), a small printing press, and an ancient typewriter, not to mention a cast full of colorful characters.

Rogers' attractive costume design plays well in this equally eclectic setting. And Pase's daughters, Joy and Rebekah Pase, deliver explosive special effects as the show's light and sound techs.

The script tells a story with a moral surrounding two families living in New York City during the Great Depression.

The Sycamores blissfully spend their lives pursuing crazy "hobbies" and selling homemade candies and fireworks. Grandpa Vanderhof, played by Tim Evans, is their patriarch.

As polar opposites, the Kirbys are sensible, wealthy, and repressed. Mr. Kirby is president of Kirby and Co.

Girl meets boy and Alice Sycamore (Emily Mullin) and the boss' son, Tony Kirby (Chris Prestel), of course fall in love. The main plan focuses on whether their love has a fighting chance.

Secondary plots reveal Grandpa's past and introduce IRS agents and G-Men (with a beautiful performance by Mark T. Allen as Wilbur Henderson), along with lots of belly laughs.

Pase's cast consistently delivers a full round of well-played performances.

Grandpa is blessed with some of the most powerful lines in the script. Evans' timing appeared a little sluggish on opening night — perhaps due to temporary cue or line problems — but his gentle demeanor and introspective delivery captivated the audience.

As Tony and Alice, Prestel and Mullin make sweet chemistry. Both thespians' stage experience shows to good advantage here — Prestel's in a very natural presence and Mullin's in the grace and style she brings to her character.

Gerie Voss as Alice's sister, Essie Carmichael, is adorable as the wannabe ballerina who hasn't a clue that she has no talent. Her husband, Ed, nicely played by Chris Penik, prints and distributes anything just for the sake of printing. As the mother, Penny Sycamore, Becky Batt exudes wide-eyed candor and a ditzy but keen intelligence. And the sisters' childlike and lovable father, Paul (played by Eric Small) juxtaposes Penny's optimism with a boundless excitement and passion for inventing fireworks.

Cast members from Laurel include Reginald Garcon, who basks in the spotlight anytime he crosses the stage as Mr. DePinna; and Melanie Pino-Elliott , who makes an admirable drunk as Gay Wellington.

Chris Carothers as Boris Kohlenknov; Shirley Greenwald as Mrs. Kirby; Ann Henry as Reba; David McCrary as Reba's boyfriend, Donald; and Suzanne Young as the Grand Duchess Olga Katrina all deliver praiseworthy performances.

"You Can't Take It With You" continues through Sunday, April 13, at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St., with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m., and matinee performances Sundays, March 30, and April 13, at 2 p.m. General admission is $15. Students 18 and under and seniors 65 and over pay $12. For reservations, call 301-617-9906 and press 2.

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