Family matters in this classic, feel-good comedy
By Victoria Bégin
Written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
Directed by Joseph Ziegler
Krystin Pellerin and Gregory Prest. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The crackle of static can be heard on a swinging 1930s record playing in the moments leading up to the first act of Soulpepper’s You Can’t Take it With You, on stage now at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
Set in the midst of the Depression in New York City, You Can’t Take it With You tells the story of the Sycamore family, a colourful bouquet of characters with their own vastly different interests and hobbies, all living under one roof. Penny Sycamore (Nancy Palk), the mother, writes mediocre plays on a typewriter which was delivered to the house by mistake eight years earlier. Paul Sycamore (Derek Boyes), her husband, builds fireworks in the basement with his assistant Mr. De Pinna (Michael Simpson), who also lives in the house, occasionally producing a billowing stream of smoke onstage.
Grandpa (Eric Peterson), Penny’s father, left the workforce 35 years ago when he “decided to relax.” Essie (Patricia Fagan), Penny and Paul’s daughter, dances across the stage in ballet shoes for much of the play, chasing her dream of being a ballerina when she’s not in the kitchen making candy. Essie’s husband, Ed (Mike Ross), lives with the Sycamores as well, dividing his time between playing off-key notes on a xylophone in the living room and operating a printing press (also in the living room).
Relating to any of the characters individually is no simple task. That is, until daughter Alice Sycamore (Krystin Pellerin) is introduced, a sensible young woman who clearly has not inherited the eccentricities of her parents. Although Alice loves her family dearly and does not want them to change, she also longs for the normalcy of a quiet home.
We begin to understand the Sycamore family through a series of events that unfold around the relationship between Alice and her fiance, Tony (Gregory Prest), who comes from a conservative, well-to-do family. When Tony’s parents, Mrs. Kirby (Brenda Robins) and Mr. Kirby (John Jarvis), are invited for dinner at the Sycamore house, Alice’s anxiety is felt by everyone in the audience.
You Can’t Take it With You is a very busy play with a large cast and a flurry of activity happening at every turn. However, all the chaos is anchored by a common theme that runs through each storyline: the importance of family and how it defines and shapes us. Peterson, of Corner Gas fame, shines as the wide-eyed, bespectacled Grandpa, the patriarch of the family who is only too willing to listen to Ed play notes on his xylophone, or see Essie practice her latest ballet twirl. Even the housekeeper, Rheba (Sabryn Rock), is accepted as one of the Sycamore clan. All the characters encourage one another to pursue their different interests with one end result at heart—being happy.
Pellerin and Prest, as Alice and Tony, are the characters the audience cheers and hopes for; Fagan’s Essie, although a slow learner, takes a great deal of pride in her ballet dancing. Penny and Paul Sycamore, played by Palk and Boyes, are constantly concerned for the well-being of their daughters, and their relationship is truly the foundation on which the family is built.
Under director Joseph Ziegler, the entire cast of You Can’t Take it With You perform wonderfully, and the warm personalities of the characters make it easy to imagine pulling up a chair at their dining room table. No detail has been overlooked in Christina Poddubiuk’s set and costume design, not to mention the play’s authentic ’30s slang and movie references.
This light, comedic play explores a household where love and happiness prevail. You Can’t Take it With You runs until June 21 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Visit soulpepper.ca for more information and to buy tickets.
Read our Q&A with cast members Sabryn Rock, Krystin Pellerin and Gregory Prest here.