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Grimes, Supporting Cast Keep '30s Comedy A Classic

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Grimes, supporting cast keep '30s comedy a classic




The script is so widely imitated that its central situation — wacky family’s normal daughter loves normal son from a family of stuffed shirts - has become a nagging cliche.

It’s peppered with references to such ’30s arcana as Kay Francis and the Singer Midgets. It even has - ugh - a moral.

Still, it’s hard to think of an American stage comedy that has held up better over time than the Moss Hart-George Kaufman concoction “You Can’t Take It With You."

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s revival of the show, continuing through Feb. 1, brings the warhorse through in pretty good shape, even though half the cast members seem to be missing out on the fun.

The chief reason to take in “Can’t Take It” is Loretta Grimes, who plays Penelope, the mortifyin’ mama of the Sycamore family. It should strike fear into the community that Grimes is by day a pre-school teacher - her sense of subversive irony is so sharp, who knows what ideas she’s planting in those little minds?

As would-be writer and painter Penelope Sycamore, Grimes shrieks, coos, coddles and fusses like she’s been chugging espresso-and-Prozac cocktails. This embarrasses the living daylights out of daughter Alice (Karen Sparks), who is sweet on Tony Kirby (David Andrews), the amiable son of a workaholic Wall Street tycoon and his snooty wife.

Except for Alice, the rest of the Sycamore clan is as wacky as mom - dad Paul (Robert R. Farra) is testing fireworks indoors and out with his fireworks-deafened pal Mr. DePinna (Steve Elliott). Alice's sister Essie (Sherry M. Sidick) studies ballet - badly - and her low-wattage husband Ed (Erik Ivar Olsen) plunks on a xylophone and typesets un-American messages in attractive fonts. Then there’s wise-fool Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (David Keren), who has been around too long to take anything or anyone seriously, least of all himself.

Despite all this zany, wacky, screwball looniness, however, it takes a while for the show’s momentum to kick in.

I think the devil is in the details, which can be distracting if they’re not nailed down.

If, for instance, people have to shout at Mr. DePinna to be heard, why does Mr. DePinna talk in a normal voice? If Essie is a hopeless ballet dancer, why does she seem pretty graceful prancing around the house and turn into a klutz only when her bombastic Russian ballet teacher Boris Kolenkhov (Ernie Terry) runs her through drills? If Tony is the scion of a well-heeled Wall Street clan, why is his suit so badly tailored? If Grandpa is so addled, why does he have the mien of a veteran attorney? And why is it that of the G-Men who make a brief appearance later, the younger and less imposing one is the boss?

In short, I think the director and cast miss a few comic chances by not getting the

Right on top of the details, however, are the charming period set by Joseph Medrano and Bob Seeman and Cheryl Berteel’s deft wardrobe choices.

Fortunately, things pick up midway through the show with the arrival of the pompous Kirby clan for dinner. This gives Grimes two strong comic foils in Janyce C. Miller as Mrs. Kirby and in Grimes’ husband Tim Grimes as Anthony Kirby Sr. These two know what exactly what to do with their characters: make us see the insecure human beings under the veneer of propriety.

Also hitting all the right notes are a handful of supporting actors: Terry as the Russian dance teacher; Ellen Toronto, lovely as a Russian duchess-turned-New York waitress; Larry Rusinsky as a nebbishy IRS man; and Kathy Kauffman as the Sycamores’ cheerfully dim-witted maid, Rheba.

Still, the rest of the cast doesn’t hinder the show’s effectiveness by muffing lines and cues, and there isn’t a bad performance in the lot. In a show that demands quick pacing, that’s not easy to bring off. AACT’s production in short, brings through loud and clear why Kaufman and Hart’s comic writing has never really been topped.

"You Can't Take It With You" continues Thursdays-Sundays through Feb. 1 at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Playhouse, 2275 Platt Road. Curtain times are 8 p.m. nightly except Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are are $16, $14 for seniors and students. For details, call 971-AACT.