by Lynn on April 28, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following review of YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, was broadcast Friday, April 27, 2012 CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, CIUT 89.5 FM. Between 9 am and 10 am. YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until June 21.

1) Good Friday morning, Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer is back again after her interview with David Ferry and Mitchell Cushman, this time to review YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU.

Hi Lynn. What’s the title mean? What can’t you take with you?

Money of course. You can spend all your life making money but when you die, you can’t take it with you. Of course some people would disagree with that.

2) And what’s the story behind such a title?

It was written in 1936 by the dynamic duo of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. Both were terrific writers and directors in their own right. George S. Kaufman was a triple threat in that he was also a respected theatre critic as well as a playwright and director. When Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman worked together their success rate was enviable. They won awards and their productions were Broadway hits.

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU was their third hit together. It’s about the loopy but lovable Sycamore family and their friends. This is a household in constant movement, busy, funny, creative and loving.

Penny Sycamore writes plays because one day five years before a typewriter was accidentally delivered to the house and she just started using it. Well first she had to learn how to type—that took two years, but then she just started writing plays.

Her husband Paul Sycamore makes fireworks in the basement with his friend Mr. De Pinna, who also lives there. Daughter Essie makes candies and also practices ballet—she is almost always in toe shoes.

Her husband Ed is a musician and has a printing press and prints all sorts of pamphlets. He doesn’t seem to have a job.

Another daughter Alice has a real job, seems the most normal of the family and is in love with Tony, her boss’s son. He’s in love with her. During the course of the play he proposes.

The head of the Sycamore family is Grandpa who enjoys life doing exactly what he wants to do. He gave up working years before—although he has property that makes money that seems to support the family.

One problem, as we find out, is that Grandpa has never paid income tax because he doesn’t believe in it, and the feds come looking for him.

3) You say one problem is Grandpa and the tax man. Are their others?

Yes and it’s a basic problem we call can appreciate meeting the future in-laws. First, Alice is anxious about her boyfriend Tony Kirby meeting her crazy family.

Tony is rich, comes from a very respectable family and she is not sure how he will take to her family. She loves them to bits, but she knows how strange they might appear. She needn’t have worried.

But then she is really worried when it’s arranged that the Kirbys will come for dinner at the Sycamores and they will get to know each other. Lots of preparing for the Sycamore family to be on their best behaviour.

Then Tony gets the day wrong and he and his family show up a day early, when the Sycamores are particularly in manic mode—dancing, posing for portraits and of course there is the dead drunk woman
passed out on the couch. Further mayhem ensues with the uptight Kirbys watching all these odd people acting, well oddly. Now Alice really has something to worry about, or so she thinks.

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU is a comedy of situation, manners, almost situation comedy proportions, but it’s also a comedy with deep feelings.

4) How so?

This family loves each other. As Alice says, she knows them best and sees their true worth and specialness and loves them. She laments that they forget things—such as giving Grandpa his mail from the Internal Revenue Service that wants to talk about his not paying income tax.

The letters get waylaid in the house, not out of maliciousness, but out of forgetfulness—one was found in the freezer. They forget to pass on messages.

But, they all support and respect each other’s activities. The family is happy with Penny’s plays. She is delighted with the progress of her husband’s fireworks. Strangers drop by and then stay and live there for years. No one comes to the door without being invited in for a meal. They are all productive in their own way and don’t seem to be a burden. And they are all grateful for what they have no matter how minimal.

And the beauty of this wonderful play is that it’s sweet and wise. I don’t think it’s old-fashioned or past it’s best by date. I think it’s a gentle tweak on the nose of those souls who are blinkered by money, propriety and lack of fun. And we can all relate to that.

And I just love spending time with those loopy characters.

5) Does the production do justice to the play?

Yes, beautifully. Director Joseph Ziegler is a thoughtful, respectful director who has a good eye for the humour in the play. There are 17 characters in the play—they are not really on stage at the same time, but it’s pretty close—so it gives you a sense of the traffic on that stage. The blocking is deft. The direction is always assured. And Ziegler has an unerring eye for the heart of the play and how to realize it in scene after scene. I did wonder though, there are several references to how hot it is outside and of course inside the house. Then why are so many characters wearing longsleeved clothes and a sweater on top of that. Or was that part of their oddness?

The cast is dandy with many Soulpepper regulars, so they have a short-hand in working together, like a family you might say.

As Grandpa, Eric Peterson is wiry, impish and gleeful. Grandpa gets joy from the simplest of things and it’s catchy. A glint in Grandpa’s eye speaks volumes and he’s able to pass that on in the most delicate, gentle way, even to the most hard-nosed character, such as Mr. Kirby.

As Penny, Nancy Palk is not so much befuddled as she is pre-occupied with her plays. Palk has a lovely sense of distraction. But there is grace and gentle charm to this lovely performance as well.

As Alice living in both wonderland and the real world, Krystin Pellerin has a quiet knowingness. She realizes how her family might be conceived by others. You never doubt she loves them but she is concerned.

This is a grown-up performance of a character living with people who are full of whimsy.

And as Tony, Gregory Prest gives another compelling performance. The character is wise and caring and so full of compassion for the Sycamore family, and of course in love with Alice. You know things will turn out right—but it will still be loopy.

So YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU is a terrific production of a wonderful play we need to take to heart more often.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s Blog at

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until June 21.

Box Office: 416-866-8666

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