Imperfect comedy at Laurel Mill Playhouse

Laurel Leader

One of the most irrepressible families in theater — the zany Vanderhof–Sycamore clan of the 1936 classic “You Can’t Take It With You” — makes yet another comebackat the Laurel Mill Playhouse.

The screwball comedy written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, premiered at the Booth Theater in Manhattan in 1936 and won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama the same year novelist Margaret Mitchell snagged her Pulitzer for “Gone With the Wind.”

In 1938, Robert Riskin adapted the play script to the Oscar-winning film of the same name starring Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, and Jimmy Stewart.

“You Can’t Take It With You” appeared onstage at Laurel Mill Playhouse in 2008 and again in 2014 (the year James Earl Jones played Grandpa in an acclaimed Broadway revival) and is produced for the third time in a decade by Maureen Rogers under the direction, this time, of John Cusumano.

A new cast (excepting Mark T. Allen, who made a wonderful Mr. Henderson four years ago in company with Ann Henry as Reba) enacts the tale of two families living in New York City during the Great Depression.

In the eccentric Sycamore household, three generations blissfully pursue creative “hobbies” while selling homemade candy and fireworks, dodging taxes and generally creating an alternative reality with an escapist theme.

The Kirbys are polar opposites — wealthy, a bit snobbish and repressed. Girl (lovely Alice), the least eccentric Sycamore, works for Mr. Kirby and has fallen in love with Boy (the boss’s down-to-earth son, Tony). The main plot focuses on whether their romance has a fighting chance once the two families meet.

A bag of amusing secondary plots reveal Grandpa’s colorful past and introduces IRS agents and G-men to the mix.

Overall, Cusumano’s cast — Mary Gray Kramer (Penny Sycamore), Catherine Mumford (Essie), Dana Fleischer (Rheba), Jim Berard (Paul Sycamore), Len Dinerman, (Mr. De Pinna), Anwar Al-Mallah (Ed Carmichael), Shawn Fournier (Donald), John D’Amato (Grandpa), Miranda Snyder (Alice Sycamore) John Cusumano (Mr. Henderson and G-Man #1), Nick Russo (Tony Kirby), Terri Laurino (Kolenkhov), Talia Washington (Gay Wellington), Allen (Mr. Kirby), Penni Barnett (Mrs. Kirby) and Henry (The Grand Duchess Olga Katrina and G-Man #2) — delivers fresh and winning performances.

Snyder’s upbeat interpretation of Alice contrasts beautifully with her character’s moments of melancholy and complements the handsome Russo’s charm and style as Tony; these two create sweet chemistry.

As Alice’s sister, Essie, Mumford is adorable and funny, dancing and stumbling her way through the play in a tutu, oblivious to her lack of talent.

The girls’ mother, Penny (played by Kramer), exudes independence and a keen maternal intelligence. Their father, Paul (played by Berard) appears obsessed with his fascination for manufacturing fireworks and mostly oblivious to anything else.

Fleischer as Reba is feisty and perky as the Sycamore’s housemaid, and Fournier is steady and reliable as her sidekick, Donald.

Dinerman as Mr. DePinna also brings good energy, finding a golden moment in Act 2 when he gets to enact a very funny sight gag.

It is always entertaining to see cast and crew having a wonderful time performing community theater, and D’Amato as the charming patriarch, Grandpa, couldn’t seem happier. As do Henry as the Duchess and Barnett as Mrs. Kirby.

Many of the shows funniest moments, however, should be credited to Laurino, who portrays the Russian ballet instructor Kolenkhov. Laurino’s excellent sense of comic timing and fearless stage presence are a delight to watch unfold.

Allen, who may have a leg up due to his previous experience in the play (Cusumano does a fine job portraying Mr. Henderson this time around) also delivers a nuanced, standout performance as the uptight Mr. Kirby, who travels a meaningful journey of his own to play’s end.

But this production would benefit from stronger direction; the timing is off for most of the show. Al-Mallah as Ed delivers an unremarkable performance, which is surprising considering his extensive stage experience. And Washington’s unrefined interpretation of the drunken Wellington needs more work.

Cusumano’s tech design (and consequently, his blocking) also falls a bit short. From the moment the lights rise, inattention to small details such as the lack of frames for photos taped to wall flats painted an industrial gray (which doesn’t fit with a warm family atmosphere) and unfinished trim work detract from the show’s compositions.

And, a lack of variety in levels (easily achieved by platforms) and obstructive placement of the furniture, interferes with the audience’s sight lines.

Marge McGugan’s costume design is the strongest visual element and attractive, but it, too, misses on small details such as proper dress lengths and period hosiery.

“You Can’t Take It With Youcontinues through Sunday, March 4, at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St., with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m., and matinee performances Sundays, at 2 p.m. General admission is $20. Students 18 and under and seniors 65 and over pay $15. Buy tickets online at laurelmillplayhouse.org.

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