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THEATER REVIEW 'YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU' : Family Follies : The Conejo Players add new life to the freewheeling antics of the Vanderhof- Sycamore clan.


While Iraqi missiles fell on Tel Aviv on Friday, the opening-night Conejo Players Theater audience seemed to find welcome respite in the company's production as laughter filled the theater from beginning to end.

First performed in 1936, "You Can't Take It With You" today holds up better than many contemporary comedies.

A longtime favorite of school and community theater groups, the show has also been revived on Broadway.

The story of the freewheeling Vanderhof-Sycamore family and their collection of, shall we say, colorful friends is now in the capable hands of the Conejo Players under the direction of 15-year company veteran Mary Lee Hulette.

You may already know the routine: Martin Vanderhof heads a family that lives in a nice New York City home and as a hobby he attends graduations to hear the blustering speakers. His daughter, Penelope, has been writing bad plays ever since a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to the house some years back. Her husband, Paul, develops fireworks in the basement, and their daughter, Essie, is a frustrated ballerina.

Also among the regular residents of the Vanderhof-Sycamore home are Essie's husband, Ed, who plays classical music badly on the xylophone and prints left-wing slogans not because of the politics but because he likes the sound of them; the Irish maid, Rheba, and Paul's inventing partner, Mr. DePinna (who stopped in to make a delivery several years ago and just stayed). Frequent visitors include Rheba's unemployed boyfriend, Donald, and Essie's expatriate Russian ballet instructor, Boris Kolenkhov.

All are having a fine time, enjoying themselves enormously and bothering nobody. The one "normal" person in the household, Essie's sister, Alice, loves them all even though she shares none of their eccentricities--she even has a job.

Alice is in love with Tony Kirby, son of the straight-laced banker who employs her, and the whole Kirby family is scheduled to join the Vanderhof-Sycamores for dinner. Only they show up one night early. Well, you can just imagine the hilarious confusion that ensues.

Though the plot and characters creak a bit with age, the show's sentimentality and humor withstand the years, and certainly the clan's philosophy of living for the moment always has its strong adherents.

Standout performances among the many capable actors include those of Steve Cardwell as Martin Vanderhof, Denice Stradling as the level-headed Alice Sycamore, and a terrifically comic appearance by Laura Tennehouse as actress Gay Wellington, whose glory has faded some years earlier.

As Alice and Essie's mother, Rosemary DeLeonardis seems to have based her characterization on Betty White's Rose in "The Golden Girls."

None of the others are as conspicuously derivative.

As much of a star of the show as any of the actors is the wonderfully detailed set, credited to John Hulette with lots of help from set dresser Nan Barnes and prop coordinator Penny Hohenberry.


"You Can't Take It With You" continues Thursday through Saturday nights through Feb. 23 at the Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road, in Thousand Oaks. All shows are at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 on Thursday, $10 on Friday and Saturday. For further information or reservations, call 495-3715.

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