Don’t work too hard. That’s the moral of the 1936 comedy You Can’t Take It With You.
Life is for living, declare the members of the eccentric Sycamore clan. Paint, write, manufacture illegal fireworks in the basement — do whatever makes you happy.
Not all the actors on the Showboat Majestic, however, embrace this message. While Tom Manning performs the key role of Grandpa with an admirable ease — think Hal Holbrook after a good meal — others overplay their parts, trusting neither the material nor the audience.
How much does daughter Essie (Lisa DeRoberts) need to flail around as an aspiring ballerina for us to understand she has no future in dance? DeRoberts and her fellow cast members should stop trying to show us how silly, exotic or insane their characters are and simply play the lines.
All this overacting slows things down, a fatal error in comedies from this period. Still, romantic leads Kate Glasheen and Nathan Neorr are charming, and director Tim Perrino, a gag man from way back, manages to pack a whole lot of chaos into the Showboat’s tiny space. The terrifying removal of a snake terrarium from the dining room is one of many inspired bits.
In a curtain speech Perrino said, “This is a classic American comedy on a classic American stage.” Though dated, You Can’t Take It With You remains an easy play to enjoy. (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park presents it next fall.)
Even a flawed Showboat production offers the rare theatergoing pleasure of a stroll on deck between acts. On a late spring evening, with the barges quietly passing and the lights of Newport beckoning through the dusk, we can be like Grandpa, happily gate-crashing another Columbia University commencement. It sure beats working.
YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, presented by Landmark Productions on the Showboat Majestic downtown, continues through May 23. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.