The Jungle Theater's You Can't Take It With You offers a top-flight cast with centuries of experience running through a beloved American comedy classic from the 1930s. Taking my cue from Grandpa Vanderhof, the business dropout who spends his days collecting stamps and going to commencement addresses, I am going to take a glass half-full approach here.
This isn't a perfect production, but it is a largely entertaining one fueled by some terrific performances by some of those above-mentioned veteran actors who dig into the soul of a family living the true American dream.
[jump] It's the summer of 1937. The Depression is still on, but life continues with the eccentric inhabitants of the Vanderhof household. Grandpa (Raye Birk) left work 35 years before and couldn't be happier. The extended family that lives under the roof are all most interested in exploring their interests than finding straight work. So son-in-law Paul Sycamore (John Middleton) spends his days in the cellar, thrilling at the new fireworks he creates like a fourth-grade boy. Daughter Penny (Angela Timberman) writes plays after being inspired to take up the work when a typewriter was mistakenly sent to the house.
The only "normal" one is granddaughter Alice (Anna Sundberg), who works in a Wall Street office. She's become the sweetheart of Tony Kirby (Hugh Kennedy), the son of the business's owner. That sets up a classic comic confrontation, as the eccentric residents of the house (which also include a dance-obsessed second granddaughter, her flighty husband, and a few additional hangers-on) come face-to-face with the stiff elder Kirbys, played by real-life husband and wife Nathaniel and Cathleen Fuller.
That scene, essentially the play's whole second act, is as delightful as you would expect, but Kaufman and Hart had a bigger story in mind than just a snobs-versus-slobs adventure. Grandpa Vanderhof and his casual attitude toward wealth and success really fuel this tale. The things that we see in the first two acts show that this family, despite missing out on the trappings of success or even normalcy, are insanely happy. Sure, they may dine on Corn Flakes for dinner and the living room may sometimes resemble a demented artists' salon, but when the chips are down they come together to do what's best for their family and the always expanding circle of friends.
While there is space for outlandish performances (Allen Hamilton, Charity Jones, and Wendy Lehr look to be having tremendous fun with their out-sized characters), the core performances are surprisingly nuanced and subtle. That may push back the comedy a bit, but it certainly allows us to understand and really bond with the Vanderhof family.
That sense of the real also adds some heft to the show's message, especially near the end, as Grandpa and the elder Kirby talk about their differences. Both Birk and Fuller lay deep foundations that really pay off during these moments.
Don't worry. This isn't a Eugene O'Neill play. Gary Gisselman's production also features the spectacle of Jay Albright in a toga, Grandpa's confrontations with the IRS about paying income taxes, and a couple of adorable (and well behaved) kittens.
IF YOU GO:
You Can't Take It With You
Through August 9
The Jungle Theater
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612-822-7063 or visit online.