YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (55 Mill). In rep to June 21. $22-$68, some rush tickets. 416-866-8666. See listing. Rating: NNN
In You Can't Take It With You, the Sycamore family follows Henry David Thoreau's dictum: they march to the beat of a different drummer.
The Soulpepper production of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's classic American comedy has lots of emotional truth, though the laughs aren't all yet there in this zany tale.
Like the Munsters or the Charles Addams clan, the Sycamores and those residing with them live outside the mainstream but don't see themselves as unusual.
Grandpa (Eric Peterson) decided, decades ago, to forgo his daily job and reject the notion of paying income tax. His daughter Penny (Nancy Palk) is a playwright, a calling that she discovered when a typewriter was mistakenly delivered eight years earlier; her husband Paul (Derek Boyes) builds fireworks in the basement with the help of Mr. De Pinna (Michael Simpson), who showed up one day and simply stayed.
Their daughter Essie (Patricia Fagan) studies ballet with the Russian émigré Kolenkhov (Diego Matamoros) and makes a variety of candies; her spouse Ed (Mike Ross) sells the candies door to door and adds printed messages from the press he loves to use.
The one "normal" family member is Essie's sister Alice (Krystin Pellerin), involved with her adoring boss, Tony Kirby (Gregory Prest). Their relationship comes to a head when Tony's straitlaced parents (Brenda Robins and John Jarvis) show up for dinner on the wrong night.
Much of the play's first half is a delightful setup for that disastrous dinner, and director Joseph Ziegler has captured much of its fun. At this point, though, the production doesn't yet provide the unique but believable passion that everyone in the household possesses as they pursue their idée fixe.
It's much better at finding the heart of these ebullient, life-loving characters, an important point since the play is partly a lesson in being true to oneself rather than following social rules.
The company generates lots of warmth, beginning with Peterson's affable, ever-grinning Grandpa, whose verbally parrying encounter with an IRS man (Tim Ziegler) is one of the first act's comic highlights. Pellerin and Prest provide the ingénues with a charm and sweetness that's never saccharine. Jarvis brings a welcome twinkle to his uptight Wall Street businessman, giving the figure some welcome depth.
Palk's Penny combines such a wacky rationality to her heartfelt artistic impulses that you can't help but be amused, and Matamoros's energetic ballet master fills the stage whenever he appears. Sabryn Rock and Andre Sills provide energy as the servants in this house, while Maria Vacratsis gets laughs as Russian royalty who, though forced to work as a waitress, clearly enjoys spending time in the kitchen.
You Can't Take It With You is a play that advocates fun, and audiences will have that, even if the laugh machine isn't yet totally wound up. When the play's comedy is as well tuned as its sentiment, the Soulpepper production will be a real treat.