April 27 2016 12:22 AM

‘You Can’t Take It With You’ a fantastic theatrical circus

Essie (Angela Dill) and Ed (Greg Pratt) are just two of the quirky characters in Starlight Dinner Theatre's production of "You Can't Take It With You."
Courtesy Photo

This wild farce was anything but sparse.

Starlight Dinner Theatre’s Review production of “You Can’t Take It With You” transforms the Waverly East Intermediate School cafeteria stage into a multi-ring theatrical circus of cutups. With a 19-member cast — 20 if you include the live cat — a four-entrance set and more costumes than a wedding movie’s obligatory dress montage, this comedic play is absolutely elaborate.

Linda Granger is loveable as Penelope, the loony matriarch of the Sycamores. Angela Dill stands out as Essie, the crazy, dancing daughter. This is partly be cause of her comedic finesse and partly because of her ability to stand above almost everyone in the cast while wearing only ballet slippers. The more diminutive Greg Pratt, as Essie’s husband, Ed, made a sizeable impression of his own as a nut case who delightfully mangles the notes on a xylophone.

Tracey Dolinar humorously portrays the colossal Mr. De Pinna, who does not seem to possess a brain that is anything close to colossal. Dale Williams plays Donald, another household mainstay most sane people would probably not want to share a cab with — or a bus, train, footpath or large airport.

One of the few characters in “You Can’t Take It With You” who shows signs of extended wisdom is the grandfathter. A too young looking Ed Baker plays Martin Vanderhof. His happy-go-lucky portrayal made him a grandpa I’d like to have. Alice (Rachel Mender) seemed to be the single normal Sycamore — relatively speaking. Mender often set the standard for the level of acting on the busy stage. That busy stage, by the way, is artfully wrangled by director Diana Lett.

The ornate set looks like a cross between a Cracker Barrel store and an antique painting gallery. Its dressings suited the plays 1930s era, as did references to the Great Depression and other historical events. Mentions of acronyms like WPA, A&P and USSR might be confusing to younger audiences.

Appropriate and pristine period costumes appeared to be custom-picked for each actor. Lighting and sound cues were smoothly executed, and wireless microphones made the dialogue easy to hear.

The charm of the Kirby family — played by Jeff Kennedy, Dan Templin and Charlotte Ruppert — was an appealing contrast to the bonkers Sycamore clan. Leo Poroshin, a genuine Russian, as Boris Kolenkhov; Susan DeRosa, as Olga, the Grand Dutchess; and Diane Kennedy as a drunken actress also turned in fine performances. The entire cast earned appreciative cheers and chuckles from the cafeteria crowd — most of the time.

The second act’s dynamism diminished as it moved in a more dramatic than droll direction. Pacing was sometimes uneven, and energy levels peaked early in the play. The play itself has a story about as predictable as a Dr. Seuss rhyme scheme.

But Starlight Dinner Theatre’s loyal following enjoyed the performance and was not bothered by the lackluster script. When the audience left “You Can’t Take It With You,” they did take away some laughs and smiles.

“You Can’t Take It With You”

Starlight Dinner Theatre 7 p.m. Friday, April 29 and Saturday, April 30; 1:30 p.m. Sunday, May 1 (May 1 matinee includes dessert buffet, no dinner) $20-$36 for play and dinner; $10-15 for play only; $13-$20 for May 1 matinee Waverly East Intermediate School 3131 W. Michigan Ave, Lansing (517) 599-2779, starlightdinnertheatre.com