Duluth Playhouse Precisely On Target

Sam Black

Photo by: Nicole Modeen
Photos by: Nicole Modeen

“Facts are the enemy of truth,” as Don Quixote says at a memorable moment in Man of La Mancha. We live in a momentary cycle in which the notion of facts are passed over in favor of what someone thinks to have happened. At the same time, the world of the theatre goes on. I applaud the Duluth Playhouse for its timely staging of  “You Can’t Take It With You” so soon after our November presidential elections.

Moss Hart and George Kaufman were dealing with mid-depression audiences when they created this incredibly satirical show. Both Broadway and Hollywood embraced the show, and it won every award possible in those years. The play is still very powerful in our own time. The best things in life are still honesty, integrity, and being mostly satisfied with this life, with all its imperfections.

Martin Vanderhof, (Kevin Walsh), is the prophet of the era, who makes sure that everyone in the play adheres to an ethical standard that is not popular at the time. His daughter, Penelope (Kirsten Hambleton) understands his philosophy, and tries to teach her family these values. Therefore, we have dancing lessons in one room, fireworks under construction in the basement, marimba lessons on the upper level, and a love relationship in motion between Tony (Jason Scorich), a banker’s son, and Alice (Louisa Scorich) daughter of Penelope and grand-daughter of Martin.

On Friday and Saturday night we watched the 1937 Frank Capra film version. It’s a bit of a blur to go from house to house to bank board room to jail to the courtroom and fireworks punctuating the scenery. At this point, I definitely prefer the stage version, with the dialogue far more central to the story than all the changes of scenery. At the same time, the sumptuous Vanderhof mansion scenery, designed by Ann Gumpper, was a delight all evening. Jeff Brown’s lighting highlighted the action and dialogue as it moved from one side of the stage to the other.

Grandpa Martin is the one who reminds the senior Mr. Kirby (Kendall Linn) that the harmonica in his pocket is far more valuable than the millions in his banking portfolio. After all is said and done, you can’t take it with you. Frankly, the whole cast was really ‘spot on’ last Thursday. Gay Wellingtion was always drunk, as well as front and center, and the Duchess Olga made an impressive entrance just when all chaos was in full motion. Carolyn LePine was quite convincing in both(!) of these roles. Kirby Wood was an impassioned scientist as Mr. DePinna, even if glorious fireworks would become his undoing.

Through it all Penelope keeps her calm, and introduces all the newcomers to the particular part of the house they came to visit. Mrs. Kirby (Ellie Martin) is as stuffy as necessary, until her love of the occult opens her up to new possibilities. Essie (Hannah Smart) wisely dances her way through the play, oblivious to the enormous variety that simply doesn’t matter to her focus on dancing.

Director Rob Hadaway certainly caught the Duluth essence embedded throughout this play. We love life up here, and we want to share and celebrate with others, with a special acceptance of diversity as part of the warmth of a winter evening. You Can’t Take It With You might be a good play/movie to add to your collection for the next several years. I hope you visited the Duluth Playhouse version, for sure. But this story will never fail you as a reminder of the importance of integrity in a world that seems to be moving toward the slippery side.