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You can't take it with you, but you'll want to. After seeing the annual summer offering of the Hamburg Theatre Under the Stars, running through the weekend, you may want to move right in.
Their production of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's 1936 seminal comedy, "You Can't Take It With You," is everything it should be: sweet, convivial, zany and smart. Of course, the play, which earned Kaufman and Hart the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, continues to stand on its own sturdy legs.
The story revolves around the unconventional Sycamore household, which might as well exist under a circus tent. The mom flies from one artistic hobby to the next; the dad makes fireworks in the basement. One daughter dances around the living room in her ballerina tutu - a grown up, she is childish and annoying - and grandpa is being investigated by the IRS for what appears to be lifelong tax evasion. The other daughter is embarrassed by her loving family, however, and is afraid to show them off to her new suitor. Hilarity thus ensues.
It's such a perfect premise, and you'll recognize its trappings from countless films, TV shows and plays that have come since. It might be hard to mess this one up, but it can't be easy to do so well, especially given the conditions of an outdoor stage. (Be prepared to miss a few lines here and there. Wind does wonders to body microphones.)
It is a fine choice for this kind of production, in this environment.
The Theater Under the Stars group is an unusual organization. They are completely volunteer-based, from artistic director and founder Tony Baksa, right down to the backstage team. The company produces one play every Labor Day weekend in the Village of Hamburg's Memorial Park bandstand.
There are no tickets, so admission is free, and volunteers sell raffle tickets and take donations in upturned hats.
It is, in every sense, a humble community production. Set it in black and white, and you can see Ronnie Howard walking with his fishing pole in the distance. It's all so nostalgic and endearing, but somehow not saccharine, just humble and honest. Thankfully, the production lives up to its setting.
Director Marc Ruffino has an excellent cast here. Every character in the play's three acts (there are two intermissions, so get your place in the ice cream line early) is archetypal, and therefore welcome to a community company like this.
Katie McMahon is delightful as daughter Essie, the grown-up princess-fairy-dancer. McMahon brings out Essie's physical humor wonderfully, though there's room for her to bring in some subtlety to the curiously odd girl.
Kathleen Denecke and Patrick Tighe, as lovebirds Alice and Tony, respectively, are grounded and fresh. They play where your head, as an audience member, is, which is a smart approach.
Many others are wonderful, but Norm Argulski takes the cake as grandpa Martin. He's got that age-old grandpa thing down, where you're always loved and never without attention. He probably has a wrapped caramel in his pocket for you.
That's really what this production, in this beautiful village park setting is: a wrapped caramel. It's familiar and kind, chewy and buttery, and oh so pleasing.