Lawrence Toppman

Why you should see ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ at Theatre Charlotte

“You Can’t Take it With You” still has something to say to American audiences – especially after this week’s elections – at Theatre Charlotte.
“You Can’t Take it With You” still has something to say to American audiences – especially after this week’s elections – at Theatre Charlotte.

I almost never recommend anything I haven’t seen, but I’m going to make an exception for “You Can’t Take It With You” at Theatre Charlotte. The show runs at 501 Queens Rd. through Nov. 13.

I spent its opening weekend in Durham, where I’d gone to see “Fun Home” and interview Charlotte native Abby Corrigan for an upcoming profile. The Observer has absolutely no freelance budget for theater or dance reviews – we assigned the last one seven months ago – so nobody went in my place. Last week, I had too many engagements to catch up with it.

But I’d have been on the fence about reviewing in any case. George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart shared the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for their drama about the freethinking – not to say outlandish – Vanderhof family, who live in New York. Their one “ordinary” member, young Alice, falls in love with Tony, the son of a strait-laced and wealthy family named Kirby. I’ve seen the play three times and the movie once, and it has inspired countless other efforts. (Think of “La Cage Aux Folles.”) So I doubted I’d have much to say about it this time around – but now I wonder.

Dennis Delamar, who’s playing Grandpa Vanderhof, sent me an e-mail about the production. He pointed out that director Mitzi Corrigan and producer Ron Law started with a play about wacky white people whose black maid has a black live-in boyfriend. In this version, “presented in conservative Myers Park, the upper-class Kirby family is black. Charlotte veterans John Price and Corliss Hayes are the male ingenue’s somewhat snooty parents; a basketball player turned actor, a handsome young black man (named) Armie Hicks Jr., is playing Tony. Alice (Cora Breakfield) is white, as is the rest of her family.

“Rheba the maid isn't black; she's Asian (Amy Wada), and her boyfriend Donald is a rural Southern white fellow (Jonathan Ewart). Gay Wellington, the drunk actress who’s visiting, is of Indian descent (Zendyn Duellman). We are an example of racial harmony on stage for our city to see and celebrate.”

The company, which already had questions of color and class on its collective mind, rehearsed uptown during the recent racial unrest. Actors were evacuated from Spirit Square during one rehearsal for their own safety.

Those events reinforced the need for a production that shows Charlotte as it is: a melting pot, to use an overfamiliar term, in which ingredients can blend if we exert more care than we have done while mixing them. In the aftermath of an election that relied on messages of exclusion, we need this show more than ever.

Toppman: 704-358-5232