REVIEW: Mad Cow’s ‘You Can’t Take It with You’

Sarah French and Robert Johnston in ‘You Can’t Take It with You’ at Mad Cow Theatre


The Mad Cow Theatre in Orlando dusts off a classic and lets its brilliance shine in its production of “You Can’t Take It with You,” the 1936 comedy written by the legendary team of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman.

In it, a loving and eccentric family become the backdrop for love. And what a family. Heading it is Grandpa Vanderhof, an independent thinker with an interest in snakes. His daughter, Penny Sycamore (Robin Proett Olson), fancies herself a playwright, while her husband, Paul Sycamore (Thom Mesrobian), fancies himself as a fireworks manufacturer. Their daughter, Essie (Ame Livingston), a candymaker who would rather be a ballerina, is married to xylophone player Ed Carmichael (Charlie Wright).

The only “sane” person, if you will, is daughter Alice Sycamore (Sarah French), who works in an office and has fallen in love with Tony Kirby (Robert Johnston), the boss’ son. But Alice worries that her goofy family will not mix well with Tony’s upstanding, upper-crust parents.

Add to this a host of other characters — the maid (Sheryl Carbonell), the handyman (Michael Sapp), a fireworks colleague (Terry Olson), a wild Russian ballet instructor Boris Kolenkhov (Toby S. Pruett), a drunk actress (droll Jamie Middleton), the Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (Monica Long Tamborello), the uptight Kirbys (wonderful Lucy Carney is Mrs. Kirby) and more. You end up with 18 people on stage for curtain call…and it’s not a musical.

Director David Russell, who did such a brilliant job on the intricate slapstick in last season’s “The Explorer’s Club,” gives good comic voice to the many characters and their eccentricities. Scenic designer William Elliott once again carves out of the stage a perfectly hewn 1930s style home complete with offstage space leading to an upstairs and downstairs, and all giving interesting space enough to accommodate the cast of 18. Adding to the visual perfection are lighting designer Erin Miner, costume designer Charlie Nebe and property master Lisa Buck.

But what we must give a standing ovation to is the wonderful cast. There’s something about actors — it’s in the heart. They give their all. And the evening I saw the play, the cast found out a scant 30 minutes before the show that the man playing grandfather Vanderhof was ill. Director Russell scrambled, telling Bobbie Bell who normally plays Mr. Kirby, to take on the role of the grandfather and that he, Mr. Russell that is, would take on the role of Mr. Kirby. Certainly that particular decision was made in order to accommodate the characters’ ages.

The two men then appeared on stage “on book,” meaning they read the lines. While uncommon, it is not especially strange. That is an honored tradition, in fact. The rest of the cast took it all in stride and delivered a terrific show.

The show runs through Sunday. If you have any time left for spontaneity this weekend, then head to Orlando’s Mad Cow and see this show.

SIDE O’ GRITS: “You Can’t Take It with You,” through Sunday. Remaining performances are 7:30 p.m. tonight (Oct. 22); 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Talkbacks are scheduled for today and Sunday. Given the current situation, those talkbacks should be fascinating. The Mad Cow is at 54 West Church Street, Second Floor, Orlando. Call 407-297-8788 or visit