Editor’s Note: This review contains minor plot spoilers
Whenever the doorbell rings at the Sycamore house, you can be sure that the person who did the ringing is not the person you expect. Yet, no matter who comes a calling, or for what purpose, they will be welcomed, introduced to all, and lastly, invited to make themselves at home. This is, simply, who the Sycamores are; they welcome friends and strangers alike into their home. Visitors might stay for dinner, or they might stay for years.
If you find yourself lucky enough to get your hands on a ticket to the Thunder River Theater Company (TRTC) production of “You Can’t Take It With You” — playing now through March 3 — you will become well acquainted with the Sycamores. You’ll stay for dinner, and you, too, might wish you could stay for years.
Director Missy Moore has made skillful use of the local talent pool to knit together her own bubbly, bizarre and brilliant iteration of the Sycamore family, or to the sticklers among us, the Vanderhof-Sycamore-Carmichael family.
Trary Maddalone plays Mrs. Penelope “Penny” Sycamore, the family’s matriarch and creative rock, alongside fellow TRTC veteran Christopher Weatley as her boyishly curious husband, Paul Sycamore. Penny and Paul don’t seem to have what might be conventionally recognized as jobs, but they remain busy writing plays, painting portraits, making firecrackers, raising kittens, playing with model ships and leading the family in all-too-revealing word association games.
Cassidy Willey and Gerald DeLisser play Essie and Ed Carmichael, a couple devoted to producing homemade candies, playing the xylophone, practicing ballet, running a miniature printing press and throwing lusty glances at each other across the room.
Grandpa Vanderhof, played by the irrepressible Bob Moore, sits atop the family tree, overseeing the operation, ensuring that joy is found at every opportunity, be it in a commencement address, a well-tossed dart, a cageful of snakes or a bit of incidental tax evasion.
Sophia Kai Higbie plays Alice Sycamore, the youngest and, significantly, the only member of her family who appears to have a job. Alice loves her family dearly, but seems to have a more realistic approach to the outside world than any of them.
Pound for pound, the Sycamores possess quite enough personality on their own, but they play the part of host with such warmth that around them revolves an unending buffet of old friends and guests. There’s a pyrotechnically gifted male model, an inebriated actress with a perfectly imperfect sense of timing and even a combustible Russian ballet master who challenges strangers to wrestling matches and rubs elbows with the Czar’s relatives. In these roles, William LeDent, Allison Whitfield and Owen O’Farrell wring the absurdity out of each and every line, stage direction and prop available. Waiting upon the Sycamores, as well as their guests, is Rheba, the patient and able servant, played by Gabrielle Bailes, and her mischievous but devoted boyfriend Donald, played by Micha Schoepe.
Individually, the Sycamores and their friends are unquestionably odd. Together, they whir in a collective expression of joy.
Conflict arrives, belatedly, in the form of a suitor for Alice. Tony Kirby, played by the brash Elijah Pettet, comes from a family that, on the surface, seems to find joy in too much hard work and displays of wealth. Despite his background, from the moment he enters the Sycamore house, Tony seems likely to catch the Sycamore silly bug. Alice can’t help but be pleased, but she knows that Mr. and Mrs. Kirby, played by Lee Sullivan and TRTC newcomer Toddy Walters, will not be so easily swayed.
So, what happens when the freight train of frivolity that is the Sycamore family meets the puritanically work-oriented Kirby family? The answer: a dinner party unlike any you’ve ever attended. Ties will be loosened, dates will be swapped, menus will be changed, brows will be furrowed, uncomfortable truths will be revealed and, of course, doorbells will be rung.
Against the backdrop of the late 1930s, the moral climax of the play strikes a surprisingly reminiscent chord here in 2023. In the wake of economic disaster and in the face of impending international doom, should we put our heads down and work our way out of trouble? Or should we spend our time doing what makes us happy, and share that joy with those we love?