Yes, it's roomy and picturesque here at Jackalope Ranch, but I think my favorite thing is the ottoman -- best reintroduction of a piece of furniture in the past two decades! Remember footstools? Fuck that. And if you want to go back to read any of the older Curtains reviews, they're still here.
The warm, loopy You Can't Take It With You is a very special entry in Curtains' first short list of great 20th-century plays we all either were in or had to watch a loved one perform in during high school. The upside is that it's pretty funny no matter what, so your memories shouldn't keep you from heading out to enjoy the charming, perky production currently running at Fountain Hills Community Theater.
Enduring playwrights like the Kaufman-Hart team have a way of saying things that continue to resonate with the human spirit long after their works' details of time and place have blinked out. This is so with YCTIWY, set in a big old New York City house in 1936, a quieter time on the verge of starting the snowball into the craziness we live in today -- although in the world of the play, things like the Russian Revolution, the Depression, and the alleged birth of Big Government seemed dizzyingly new-fangled as well.
Not to the Sycamores, though. They're the family around which YCTIWY revolves, a mellow, cheerful clan that welcomes everyone and everything with open arms and an unflappable, naive grace. Their unmarried daughter, Alice (Rachel Smith), who heads to work on Wall Street every day and has fallen in love with her boss' son, despairs of his family's ever accepting the capricious, unmaterialistic Sycamores, who paint, write plays, keep snakes, make fireworks, dine on cornflakes, study ballet, cook candy, and print random flyers and daily menus merely because printing is fun. They clear a little from the candy and fireworks, and have some income from property of Grandpa's, but at everything else, they "stink" (in the words of sister Essie's ballet master, Mr. Kolenkhov). It doesn't matter, though -- they just want to be together and do what they enjoy.
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Ultimately, after three acts of near-relentless high jinks and solid old-fashioned comic dialogue, that's the message of the show: It's never too late to start being happy, to go back to the optimism and idealism that had you dancing and coloring and picking up the nearest xylophone to see whether you can improve on "that Beethoven thing." Every day brings new beauty and wonder, and as for the other stuff -- success, sanity, money, security --you can't take it with you. Sometimes not even into next month.
Director Wanda McHatton has her cast hitting a uniform tone of matter-of-fact realism, a good fit for FHCT's small house, and the ensemble meshes and grates just where it should, some with a relaxed intimacy born of many seasons together, as a leisurely perusal of the program bios will reveal. But, as in the Sycamore household, newcomers are embraced and honored for their unique contributions.
A standout in the cast is Sean Owen as Donald, Rheba the maid's live-in boyfriend. Donald and Rheba were originally written and played as African-American characters (some directors would never consider casting them any other way) and Sean and his Rheba (Tanya Schoenwolf) are white. Owen is able to take Donald's sass and intellect from their original racial and class transgressiveness to a different, well-rounded, and credible place. His face and physique are nearly perfect for stage work, and his boxer shorts and accordion will haunt me for some time.
You Can't Take It With You continues through Sunday, April 25, at Fountain Hills Community Theater, 11445 North Saguaro Boulevard. (As I've mentioned before, please drive carefully on the way back, as it's dark up there and the "One Way" signs may take you by surprise.) Tickets are $20 to $25; order here or call 480-837-9661, extension 3.