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You Can't Take It With You

Director Mick D'Arcy warms an old chestnut at the Vortex

Reviewed by Adam Roberts, Fri., Nov. 30, 2012

Big bang theory: Scott Friedman (l) and Craig Kanne prepping pyrotechnics in the Sycamore manse
Big bang theory: Scott Friedman (l) and Craig Kanne prepping pyrotechnics in the Sycamore manse
Photo courtesy of Bret Brookshire

You Can't Take It With You

The Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd., 478-5282
www.main.org/diffstages
Through Dec. 8
Running time: 2 hr., 15 min.

While chestnuts may be roasting on many an open fire this holiday season, Different Stages has opted instead to toast an old one: the classic George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart farce You Can't Take It With You. The result is a production that goes out with a bang – and not just thanks to Mr. Sycamore's famous fireworks.

Many theatre aficionados will already be familiar with the foregoing reference: Paul Sycamore's fireworks business is an underground one – literally, as his workshop occupies the basement of his family's home. But that's just the first revelation in a long line of eccentricities to come. Yes, it would seem there's something just a bit cracked about each twig of the Sycamore family tree ... right? One mustn't be too certain; after all, appearances can be deceiving.

Director Mick D'Arcy and his production team have smartly turned the Vortex into the Sycamores' dining room, inviting us into the domestic action from the get-go. It's largely this setup that provides the production with the thrust to reach the heights it does, where audience position is key. Playing to the strengths of the theatre's configuration, the set makes us feel as though we're guests of the Sycamores, ushered in for dinner as any friend or stranger surely would be. But just as the play assumes a farcical, heightened nature (it'd probably make great fodder for a musical adaptation, doubtless to cries of heresy from some), so, too, does the production design. Several chandeliers dangle above the audience, extending the dining room's lines beyond the stage. One character offers her homemade candies to us. The basement even enters into the audience space thanks to a unique, built-in Vortex element that few, if any, other venues in Austin – or families other than the Munsters – have up their sleeves. The magic of this production is that we are not treated as observers on the other side of a proscenium; we are, instead, extended family.

And our relatives, a bit unusual though they may be, are warmly portrayed by an especially strong cast. These actors are clearly committed to individual portrayals that must walk the fine line between archetype and cartoon, both honest and over-the-top. If there is a bone to pick, though, it's that some characters appear to be calibrated quite differently from others in this regard; everyone is not on the same page in terms of the stylistic world in which D'Arcy intends the production to live. In most circumstances, this would be a significant complaint, but somehow in this case it doesn't come across as a major faux pas. Perhaps it's because, when all is said and done, you're left with a big smile. And, contrary to the title's dictum, that's something you certainly can – and likely will – take with you.

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