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THEATER REVIEW : CSUF Proves You Can Take the '30s With You

March 10, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — The costume worn by ballet master Kolenkhov in Cal State Fullerton's revival of Kaufman and Hart's classic "You Can't Take It With You" is the only glaring error in the staging's authenticity. Even the anachronistic portable typewriter Penny uses to write her plays can be forgiven, but not the moujik boots and blousy shirt. Kolenkhov is a gentleman, one who socializes with the nobility; his suit and flowing tie in Act III finally have him in the proper attire.

Otherwise, Juan Lopez's costume design is flawless, as is Stacey Westbrook's fine lighting, happily bright without losing its good period tone. The most striking production element, though, is Todd Muffatti's re-creation of the Vanderhof parlor-dining room, which has the exact dimensions of a townhouse in Manhattan's upper West Side--a detail most scenic designers ignore.

Director Dan Kern doesn't ignore details either in his gracious, energetic and well-shaped staging. And he doesn't make the mistake of trying to inform the production with the sensibilities of a later time. Its feet are firmly in the middle '30s, during the Great Depression, and the play's message about living life to the fullest whether you have money or not is as valid in today's bleak economy as it was when Kaufman and Hart wrote it.

Guest actor James Greene is a perfect Grandpa Vanderhof--brisk and slightly cynical on the surface, full of bubbling humor and gentle warmth underneath, in a performance that gives the production its key to the right tone.

As his peripherally befuddled daughter-in-law Penny, who started writing plays because someone left the typewriter there years ago, Leslie Mitts has a grinning good cheer that perfectly complements the sincere concentration of Mark John Packer as Paul, Grandpa's fireworks-obsessed son.

Kathleen M. Gilbert and Cecily Davis are very good as Paul and Penny's respective daughters, ballet-crazed Essie and Alice, who is in love with her boss' son. Davis, whose light voice matches her stylish performance, looks particularly right in her scenes with Matthew Schleicher as the object of her affections. They have an interestingly down-to-earth quality often missing in the roles.

*

The aforementioned Kolenkhov (Duncan Mandel), drunken actress Gay Wellington (Barbara Streifel) and Russian Grand Duchess Olga (Kirsten S. Vangsness) are, along with most of the characters, the caricatures of which '30s comedy was made, and the actors wisely hold their outrageousness in check for the most part, to good effect.

Fred Voss is too large and bombastic as IRS collector Henderson, and Jennifer E. Ryan's maid Rheba verges on being too classy. But Jason Powell, as Rheba's boyfriend Donald, is right on the button in fine period style.

* "You Can't Take It With You," Cal State Fullerton's Little Theatre, State College Boulevard at Nutwood Avenue, Fullerton. Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m. Ends Sunday. $6-$8. (714) 773-3371. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes. James Greene Grandpa Vanderhof

Leslie Mitts Penny

Mark John Packer Paul

Cecily Davis Alice

Matthew Schleicher Tony

Kathleen M. Gilbert Essie

Jennifer E. Ryan Rheba

Jason Powell Donald

Kirsten S. Vangsness Grand Duchess Olga

Barbara Streifel Gay Wellington

Duncan Mandel Kolenkhov

A Cal State Fullerton Department of Theatre and Dance production of the comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, directed by Dan Kern. Scenic design: Todd Muffatti. Lighting design: Stacey Westbrook. Costume design: Juan Lopez. Makeup/hair design: Rachel Gliko. Sound design: Denise Landes. Stage manager: Angel Akins.

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