Boris Kolenkhov, played by Sean Wallace, and Martin Vanderhof, played by Phil Vampatella, in Community Little Theatre’s production of “You Can’t Take it With You” in Auburn.

AUBURN — The Lewiston-Auburn Community Little Theatre’s current production is the marvelous and much-acclaimed period play “You Can’t Take It With You” by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. Set in 1936, the plot turns on the humorous encounter between a conservative family and the crazy household of Grandpa Martin Vanderhof, featuring an amusing array of idiosyncratic individualists whose energetic, wholehearted pursuit of happiness is inspirational.

Director Nakeesha Warren says that in these complicated and uncertain times some escapist theater is needed just for sheer enjoyment, and that is why “You Can’t Take It With You” is perfect. Furthermore, many of the concerns of the 1930s are still found today: employment woes, economic and political worries and threats to the homeland. This play stands fresh and lively for its universal themes of family, love and living life fully. The characters feel modern and their struggles to make ends meet while having “a little fun along the way” have a contemporary feel. The similarities between the Great Depression and the Great Recession, as well as the gulf between the superrich and the average family, still ring the bell.

One of the things this play and its current production accentuates is how gracious and accepting Grandpa and his family are of others: rich or poor, black or white, immigrant or native. It affirms that the best thing that can happen to you is to be part of a loving family. And coincidentally that is also what community theater is all about.

The one-set stage is an eclectically decorated room. Myriad pictures, paintings, clocks and a plethora of knick-knacks fill the eye like an online game where you are challenged to find the hidden items. Set designer Dan Burgess (who is also cast as Ed Carmichael) has created a room that is as warm and appealing as it is busy. He notes modestly and with humor that the set is a lot like his living room.

A bold dining table dominates the room at which Grandpa Martin Vanderhof oversees the physical antics of his multi-generational and multi-racial “family,” a gang of snake collectors, alleged revolutionaries, ballet dancers and skyrocket makers. But when the youngest daughter brings her fiancé and his buttoned-up parents over for dinner, that’s when the real “fireworks start to fly.”

Philip Vampatella as Grandpa Martin Vanderhof is a delight as the sage patriarch of the family. His carefree approach to life sets the tone for the rest of the household. Early on, a hilarious visit from IRS agent Wilbur C. Henderson (Jim McKinley) to investigate Grandpa, who has never paid income taxes, prompts a heated conversation. This results in a fuming Henderson leaving with a promise that Grandpa will hear – one way or another – from the United States government.


Grandpa’s daughter, Penelope “Penny” Vanderhof Sycamore (Pam Mutty), is married to Paul Sycamore (Paul Menezes). She is a bubbly, if flighty, writer of sex-filled melodrama plays. Mutty plays the motherly role impeccably. Don’t miss her rousing word association game as she tries to smooth over the tense first meeting with the prospective in-laws. Husband Paul tinkers in the basement manufacturing fireworks with Mr. De Pinna (Dan Crawford), the former family ice man who one day simply stayed. Menezes and Crawford are marvelous in their boyish enthusiasm for explosive experimentation, oblivious to the inevitable disaster it invites.

Essie Vanderhof Carmichael (Rachel Campoli), one of Penny and Paul’s two daughters, is almost childlike and dreams, unrealistically, of becoming a ballerina. Campoli’s energy and aptitude for physical comedy are on full display as she leaps and hops haphazardly in response to her instructor’s direction.

Essie is also a maker of candy, which husband Ed Carmichael (the aforementioned Dan Burgess) helps to sell in the neighborhood. He is also a xylophone player and amateur printer. Along with his acting chops, Burgess’ musicianship is especially notable as he accompanies Essie’s ballet practice. Ed encloses a catchy phrase in each candy box, and he is convinced that his forays to deliver Essie’s candies are being followed by suspicious characters.

The other Vanderhof-Sycamore daughter, Alice (Emily Flynn), is in love with her boss’s son, Anthony “Tony” Kirby Jr. (David Moyse). Flynn’s charm and talent shine as she navigates the emotional rollercoaster her character experiences: devotion to family, love for Tony and ambivalence about their future. Moyse, a relative newcomer to the stage, is convincing as both a fiancé and the uncomfortable scion of a business-driven father.

The contingent characters in this madcap busy household include Rheba (Ayris Franklin) and Donald (Jason Bray), a Black couple who are dating. Rheba is the family cook and Donald is a handyman doing odd jobs for the family. This is Franklin’s debut and it is hoped that she will be cast again soon to further display her promising talents. Bray’s return to CLT is a treat and positively bodes well for future roles.

Another character adding to the life and color of the story is Boris Kolenkhov (Sean Wallace), a refugee from the Russian revolution. He has been teaching Essie ballet for years with little success. He seems coincidentally to time his lessons around the family dinnertime. Wallace imbues his Kolenkhov with just the right mixture of self-importance, humor and love for the Vanderhof clan.


The plot of the production thickens when daughter Alice’s planned “meet and greet” with fiancé Tony’s parents goes awry despite having a carefully planned evening that includes promises from everyone to be on their best behavior.

The day before the gathering, Gay Wellington (Susan Caron), who is purportedly an actress, drops by to read for one of Penny’s plays and becomes uproariously inebriated. Subsequently passing out on the sofa, Caron’s portrayal continues to draw laughs. She remains comatose for much of the wild proceedings around her, other than rising now and then to sing “I wanna be loved by you, boop-boop-a-doop.”

Alas, Tony’s parents, Anthony Kirby Sr. (Jason Pelletier) and Miriam Kirby (Nicole Frydrych) arrive a day early due to a misunderstanding. Pelletier and Frydrych are spot-on as a class-conscious conservative couple. The chaotic scene they encounter catches the family in some laughably improper situations, with Penny’s attempts to bring order and Grandpa’s attempts to welcome the Kirbys unravel.

Just as the indignant and embarrassed Kirbys are about to leave in a huff, three Department of Justice agents (Tim Cowan, Jim McKinley and Gregory Judd) burst in claiming there is seditious intent in Ed’s candy box circulars. Upon searching the basement, they find a huge cache of gunpowder used to manufacture Paul’s fireworks. Suddenly, Mr. De Pinna’s pipe, left unattended in the confusion, ignites the fireworks. Everyone is under arrest. Clearly, everything that possibly could go wrong, has.

The final act is a veritable emotional cleanup effort. Describing it here doesn’t do the writing or the production justice, but suffice it to say it includes a potential family showdown, the introduction of a grand duchess, blintzes, some chronic indigestion and the understanding that you can’t take it with you. Treat yourself to an enjoyable evening with this heartwarming, laughter-provoking play by the large and talented cast, who are clearly as engaged with and supportive of one another as the unique family they portray.

More show dates

Remaining performances of “You Can’t Take It With You” are Thursday through Saturday, June 23, 24, 25 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 26, at 2 p.m.

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