Comedy is one of those areas where everything has to work just perfectly to be pulled off right, and there are many areas where “You Can’t Take It With You,” the current theatre department production that will finish its run Dec. 10, works remarkably well.
Where the play, a farcical comedy that defined the genre, shines brightest is the writing. “You Can’t Take It With You,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1937, is one of those stories that are slow to start. The whole first act is involved in introducing the audience to the myriad characters. While most of the play’s action on stage is extraordinarily chaotic, this is no more apparent than in the first act. There were a number of times when my attention was being pulled in three different directions at once. There were usually four or five characters on stage at once, often doing completely different things. It is not until the very end of the first act and into the second that the action slows down a bit and forms a more unified purpose.
The chaos never truly stops, though, and this is one of its strong points. Whether it is a physical gag like someone sitting on the arm of a couch only to slip and thud on the floor, with no reaction from anyone else, or the humor we find in the awkward interplay of extremely different people, there is always a joke going on somewhere. “You Can’t Take It With You” is one of those rare works that use chaos to illustrate an incredibly intelligent point that has been written about many times in incredibly boring ways. It is this underlying intelligence that gives “You Can’t Take It With You” a depth many have long stopped expecting from comedies. Like adding a pinch of salt to hot chocolate, it enhances its flavor without making it saccharine.
The costumes and lighting were excellent as well. The costumes all fit the time period extremely well, from the formal wear of Tony and his parents to the waitress uniform of Olga. The lighting was especially impressive not only because of the large number of explosions that required perfect timing between lighting and sound to simulate, but also their subtle use of changing colors to help change the prevalent mood of the scene.
The production was most weak in the acting. While there were a few cringe-worthy moments at badly delivered lines, most of the actors and actresses did their job sufficiently, but that is all. While they did not do a bad job, it felt like they were acting like they were putting on a play and someone else’s shoes.
Some of the acting was quite excellent, however. Kimmie Agin did an amazing job of playing the “straight man” to the craziness of most of the other characters, though she did get a bit too into the melodrama of the character at times. Colin Thomas Jennings proved to be a very believable Tony Kirby, Jr. as well. The best actor in the production was CSUN alumnus Bill Taylor, who played the grandfather, Martin Vanderhof. It was the excellent delivery of an almost deus ex machina speech outlining his philosophy that truly let his experience shine. He did not feel like he was acting, it was more like he was just saying what came to his mind.
While it did not have the most memorable performances ever, the theatre department’s production of “You Can’t Take It With You” is certainly worth the time and money. Everything in the production syncs just right, pulling off a complex story that leaves you with one of the most valuable things in life – a message you can take with you.