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Indiana Repertory Theatre: “You Can’t Take It with You”

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The IRT’s “You Can’t Take It with You.” Photos by Zach Rosing.

You Can’t Take It with You is, quite literally, a laugh-out-loud comedy worth every cent of the ticket price. To call this family eccentric doesn’t even begin to describe this bizarre cast of characters who eat cornflakes and tomatoes for dinner. As I was watching each character’s quirks unfold I was reminded of the family in the cartoon Meet the Robinsons, with Alice Sycamore (Janyce Caraballo), the “normal” one, being in a position similar to Marilyn in The Munsters but without the self-loathing.

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Milicent Wright in IRT’s “You Can’t Take It with You.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Set in the 1930s, there are some things that a woman isn’t inclined to do, such as write saucy plays, which is exactly what Penny Sycamore (Milicent Wright) does while eating candy from a skull-turned-candy dish. Her daughter, Essie (Mehry Eslaminia), is a simple girl, a wanna-be ballerina who dances (badly) instead of walks and is the source of the homemade candy, which her printing press obsessed husband, Ed (Carlos Medina Maldonado), delivers for her. The happy Aunt Rheba (Brianna Milan) is pretty normal and goes with the flow, though her accordion-playing boyfriend Donald (Adam Tran) lives in the house with her (scandal?). Paul Sycamore (James Leaming), the father, runs his fireworks business out of the basement (BOOM!) with the help of Mr. De Pinna (Ansley Valentine), who is also game to model in a toga for Penny’s (bad) painting. The patriarch of the family, Martin Vanderhof (Robert Elliott), most often referred to simply as “Grandpa,” takes all this in stride, as if nothing here is unusual. Of course, 30 odd years ago he spontaneously left his job on Wall Street and never looked back.

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Joey Collins and Brianna Milan in IRT’s “You Can’t Take It with You.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

And yes, they all live in the same house, along with a tank of snakes (though admittedly it’s not clear if Mr. De Pinna lives there, but he is always there nonetheless).

The one non-resident is Boris Kolenkhov (Joey Collins), Essie’s dance instructor, though he is treated as family. He is a Russian caricature, pushing his exaggerated affectations for maximum effect. Friday night his toupee fell off during one of his salutation bows. I don’t know if it was intentional, but if not, keep it.

Everything is a typical day for them until Alice’s fiancé, the wealthy Tony Kirby (Aaron Kirby), who is also her boss, shows up with his family a day early for a dinner party meant for the two families to meet. Mr. Kirby (David Lively) and Mrs. Kirby (Carmen Roman), decked out in formal wear, stand amid the chaos. They, being the upper crust, are very reserved, proper, and completely befuddled by the scene in front of them, which includes a passed out actress (Molly Garner) disguised under a blanket as part of a divan and the Grand Duchess Olga of Russia (Jan Lucas), who works at a child’s restaurant and is currently making blintzes in the kitchen between her shifts.

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Janyce Caraballo and Aaron Kirby in IRT’s “You Can’t Take It with You.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Peter Amster has directed a great comedy, one of the best I have seen, with a cast that milks every last bit of comedic potential from their characters. I wasn’t kidding when I called it a laugh-out-loud comedy, and I assure you, you will find yourself doubled over a few times too.

Note must be taken of scenic designer Linda Buchanan’s absolutely gorgeous, mouth-watering period set. My companion and I both wanted to pick it up and replace our living rooms with it. It’s the first impression you get when you walk in the theater, a good one, and the show lives up to that initial impression with this high-quality production.

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freelance editor, writer, and theater critic

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