You Can’t Take It With You – The Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, PA.
November 9, 2015
Review submitted by Jane Mentzinger of Westtown School
The audience at Episcopal Academy’s production of You Can’t Take it With You might have been unnerved by explosions that rocked the theater or by the onstage presence of a six-foot long live snake, but they were too entertained to care. Excellent acting and outstanding technical work brought the house down (almost literally).
You Can’t Take It With You, written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart and winner of the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, follows the antics of a zany family who remind us that money can’t buy happiness, a comforting notion for a Depression era play. The action is confined to the family’s living room, but the sparkling dialogue and physical comedy make the audience feel like they’ve attended a three-ring circus.
Episcopal Academy succeeded with the material on every level. The cast respected the play’s ostensibly central theme that personal fulfillment is more important than the accumulation of wealth. The gentle, non-materialistic grandfather bested the pompous Wall Street tycoon, satisfying present day Occupy Wall Street supporters. But Episcopal’s real triumph was its insightful, hilarious exploration of family dynamics. The audience couldn’t stop laughing at the antics of the Sycamore family, but audience members were ultimately floored by the overwhelming familial love and acceptance among the characters. In today’s fast-paced world filled with isolating technology, Episcopal provided an alternative vision in which family members loved, supported, and entertained each other.
Leah Marchant, as Penelope Sycamore, epitomized maternal love. Watching her was the equivalent of a warm hug. Cruce Merchant’s pace and grace convincingly turned a high school student into wise septuagenarian who schooled everyone in life lessons.
Kailey Radcliffe, as Madame Kolenkhov, an eccentric Russian ballet teacher, was a hoot. Kelly Flynn, as her student Essie, used her real life grace to pull off some comically ungraceful ballet moves, like when she slid into a split while serving snacks. Alex Burman perfectly portrayed the wacky fireworks maker/Greek discus thrower.
Episcopal’s set designers created a gorgeous, period-perfect room right out of your grandmother’s house. The hanging chandelier, effectively utilized by the lighting crew, intimately scaled the space. The marketing staff’s sepia, black and white, and color posters were creative and fun.
You Can’t Take it With You was great theater that might help everyone in our fast-paced world take it down just a notch.
Review submitted by Mary Liz White of Bordentown Regional High School
What do you get when you combine the Addams Family with Neil Simon, and throw in some talented high school students for good measure? Episcopal Academy’s production of You Can’t Take It With You, of course! Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s Pulitzer-winning 1936 play, which chronicles a few days in the life of the lovably wacky Sycamore clan, is vividly brought to life by the Episcopal Academy Domino Club.
Staged in a blackbox theater, the play’s unit set–the Sycamore family’s living room–withstands close scrutiny of detail, appearing remarkably lived-in. The whole show possesses this spontaneous tone and the illusion of the first time, as though one has been thrust right into a real family’s home. A front-row seat puts the actors almost in one’s lap. Such a degree of intimacy demands intense composure from actors, and they deliver, harnessing the madcap energy throughout.
A strong chemistry courses through the cast, and each character is fleshed out well, from would-be scientist Mr. De Pinna (Alex Burman) to prim and private Mrs. Kirby (Daisy Learnard). Helena Bryant emotes and projects powerfully as nervous Alice, distraught because her fiancé comes from a more “normal” family, while Madame Kolenkhov (Kailey Radcliffe) steals some of the funniest moments and demonstrates an enviable Russian accent. Standouts include Penelope Sycamore (Leah Marchant), whose impeccable character acting is complemented by physical foibles and a distinctive voice; and Grandpa (Cruce Merchant), whose unflappable and assured demeanor serves as a foil to the organized chaos. His unconventional wisdom underscores the play’s ultimate message about family and simple joys, even in the midst of a tumultuous engagement and a government investigation.
Every prop is beautifully rendered (Penelope’s painting, a model boat, various food objects), as are the subtleties of the set (a chandelier, a cluttered desk, proficient employment of various doors). Other special touches include rainbow fire, an explosion, and the live snake on set at all times. Kudos to Bekah Achuff (props) and the set design team (Drew Hopkins, Alex Peters, Arianna Mordy). Lights and sound are understated but pack a punch when necessary.
Episcopal Academy’s You Can’t Take It With You is entertaining and genuine, and makes brilliant use of the black box, both spatially and aesthetically. Full commitment from both cast and crew pays off. As earnest suitor Tony Kirby (McKee Bond) declares, “I wouldn’t trade one minute of this evening for all the tea in China.”