Port Tobacco Players plays up the dramedy in ‘You Can’t Take It With You’

Though the story seems dated, the production features a top-notch set and good performances.

You Can’t Take It With You is a romantic comedy about a young businessman from a family of rich snobs who becomes engaged to a woman from the eccentric Sycamore family. It has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The theme of this show, which Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman wrote, is people discovering their true selves. You Can’t Take It With You features dramatic and comedic moments. The Port Tobacco Players (PTP) production emphasizes the dramedy, not the comedy.

What a set this show has! The set depicted the 1930s living room of a large house somewhere in New York. It was rich with detail. Set Designer John Merritt did an amazing job here, as did Set Decorator Nina Grover.

Gershawn ‘Andre’ Mason as Tony Kirby and Charlotte Flade as Alice in ‘You Can’t Take It With You.’ Photo by Angela McClane Beryle.

Kim Moore Bessler and Selena Zuhoski excelled in property design. The properties included an old-timey phonograph, a 1930s-style radio, a grandfather clock, a model ship, and dozens of pictures on the walls. The Property Crew was rounded out by Randy Tusing and Sheila Hyman.

Costume Designers Melody Sciarratta, Pat Brennan, and Carol Charnock did their best work dressing Gershawn “Andre” Mason, who played Tony, and Robert Rausch’s ancient Roman getup as Mr. De Pinna.

The cast did the best they could with a quaint and outdated script. It’s a strange play with radical and anti-government themes. Then there’s the theme of people visiting the Vanderhof home and never leaving. Many of the characters pursue hobbies like dancing, music, and playwriting.

Dan Brennan, a veteran of many PTP productions, was magnificent as Grandpa Martin Vanderhof. His many bon mots generated the few laughs of the production. Many of his lines referenced smell-the-roses platitudes. Brennan (whose humor book Is God Poking Me? is available on Amazon) excelled at comedic timing.

In a bit of colorblind casting for a play set in the 1930s, Mason (who is Black) played young businessman Tony Kirby, who was dating Alice Sycamore (the effervescent Charlotte Flade). Mason and Flade shared a number of memorable scenes.

Clockwise from top left: Keith Linville and Robert Rausch; Jason Klonkowski and Linda Hiortdahl; Stacey Swickert, Charlotte Flade, and Rachel Solomon; Stacey Swickert and Dan Brennan in ‘You Can’t Take It With You.’ Photos by Angela McClane Beryle.

What can I say about Mr. Rausch? He made Sycamore resident Mr. De Pinna amiable and clueless as he puttered around helping family patriarch Paul Sycamore (Keith Linville) create fireworks in the basement. Linville and Trinity Fraser designed the special effects.

Stacey Swickert was delightful as family matriarch Penny, a frustrated playwright. I liked Michael Beryle Jr. as Ed, husband of Essie (the lively Rachel Solomon), who spent much of the play dancing around the living room. I liked Beryle’s rendition of “Scheherazade” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, played on a xylophone.

Long-time community theater actress Bessler (recently seen in PTP’s Once Upon a Mattress) garnered a few laughs as a caricature of a bad actress named Gay Wellington. Her character was there to help read Penny’s play.

Another lively scene in the play was provided by Jason Klonkowski and Linda Hiortdahl, who played Mr. Kirby and Mrs. Kirby respectively. Hilarious marital secrets spilled out during a game of word association.

Tom Nuzzi played loud-mouthed, opinionated Russian ballet instructor, Boris Kolenkov. Alyshia Bradley played another Russian, Olga, who appeared late in the second act. That character, and the characters Rheba the maid (Shelby Floehr) and Donald (Patrick Dolan), seemed underused. Justin McCright had a brief but comical turn as an IRS agent.

Mike Gahan has directed a play that checks all the boxes but lacks that extra zing. This production is not laugh-a-minute and could have used more energy. You Can’t Take It With You premiered on Broadway in 1936 and became an Academy Award-winning film in 1938; the story seems dated to me. See this one for the performances and the themes.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

You Can’t Take It With You plays through May 21, 2023, at Port Tobacco Players, 508 Charles Street, La Plata, MD. Tickets ($16.50–$19.50) can be purchased online.

COVID Safety: For all performances, masks are suggested but not required.

You Can’t Take It With You
By Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman

Penelope Sycamore: Stacey Swickert
Essie: Rachel Solomon
Rheba: Shelby Floehr
Paul Sycamore: Keith Linville
Mr. De Pinna: Robert Rausch
Ed: Michael Beryle, Jr.
Donald: Patrick Dolan
Martin Vanderhof: Dan Brennan
Alice: Charlotte Flade
Henderson: Justin McCright (May 19–21, Randy Tusing)
Tony Kirby: Gershawn “Andre” Mason
Boris Kolenkov: Tom Nuzzi
Gay Wellington: Kim Bessler
Mr. Kirby: Jason Klonkowski
Mrs. Kirby: Linda Hiortdahl
Three G-Men: Riley Seaman, Sage Guthrie, and Trinity Fraser
Olga: Alyshia Bradley

Director: Mike Gahan
Set Designer: John Merritt
Property Design: Kim Bessler, Selena Zuhoski
Property Crew: Randy Tusing, Sheila Hyman
Set decorator: Nina Grover
Costume Design: Melody Sciarratta, Pat Brennan, and Carol Charnock
Special Effects Designers: Keith Linville, Trinity Fraser
Lighting Design: Tommy Scott
Set Painting: Mary DeMarco-Logue


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