Act I, Scene 1: The home of Martin Vanderhof -- just around the corner from Columbia University, but don't go looking for it. The room we see is what is customarily described as a living room, but in this house the term is something of an understatement. The every-man-for-himself room would be more like it. ... This is a house where you do as you like, and no questions asked. -- Stage directions for You Can't Take It With You
Visiting director Sandford "Sandy" Robbins was quite clear when asked why he readily signed up to direct the Moss Hart-George Kaufman Pulitzer Prize-winning "greatest comedy ever written" You Can't Take it With You to open the Alley Theatre's 2013-14 season.
"I love this play. It's perfectly written and timeless," he said. He's far from alone. Frank Capra made a movie out of it starring James Stewart back in the 1930s that to this day has a 96 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Alley Theatre's Artistic Director Gregory Boyd was the one who decided on the play which seems to be a perfect ensemble vehicle for the Alley's resident cast (along with some out-of-towners making appearances - it calls for a large cast)
Robbins, last here to direct November for the Alley, said this play goes beyond just comedy as it examines the human condition, specifically weighing components that are so much of the American character.
It's the story of Alice Sycamore and her eccentric family meeting her fiance's much more conservative relatives. Sanford Robbins (November) is directing, with Emily Neves playing Alice with Josie de Guzman as mom and James Black as Grandpa Vanderhof. Jeffrey Bean plays the ice cream man who, for some reason, came in one day and is still there eight years later. And Jay Sullivan plays Tony Kirby, Alice's love interest.
Naturally the course of true love doesn't run smoothly; the lovers' desires are thwarted by different values ("individual self-expression and making money and being successful," Robbins says) and there's the usual mix-up before the families eventually find a resolution.
"It's set in the 1930s so it's a period piece. It still speaks to us," Robbins said. He thinks the play has particular import now with many people pessimistic about the future (Syria, the still recovering economy) who'll be able to see how some of the characters in the play, while not having much money, are still able to lead joyful lives.
Written in more expansive times with three acts, the Alley will be presenting it with only one intermission. Robbins says he expects it to run just a bit longer than two hours.
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And although it has become a staple of high school theater productions (since there's a role for everyone in the acting club), Robbins urges people to see it done at a professional level.
With a faster-paced tempo common to its times, the play calls on all of its actors to use all their adaptability powers as they deliver a line and then pause for the audience response -- and not try to bury their lines beneath audience laughter, he said.
"There is a conflict but there's no villain in this play," Robbins says. The family-friendly play is convoluted and fun so be prepared to just go with it.
You Can't Take it With You runs September 20 through October 20 on the Hubbard Stage at Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue. At 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26 to $80.