YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, Open Eye Productions, at the Athenaeum Theatre. You can’t fake it either. Rooted in realistic eccentrics, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1936 comedy pays tribute to the pursuit of happiness and ends with an engagement symbolizing the union of the materialistic, repressed Kirbys and the maverick Sycamore clan, gloriously uncompromised misfits. It seems boho oddballs are the perfect cure for a mean Depression, and marrying ambition and art represents the American dream–without buyer’s remorse.
But first you have to believe in the opposites who attract. That’s too great a challenge for Christopher Maher’s overwrought, undercooked revival. All the quirks and running jokes are here–anarchic ballet lessons, czarist emigres cooking blintzes, pseudoclassical portrait painting, even a welfare king. But from the start this production is indiscriminately over-the-top, so the complications that should build to comic climaxes don’t.
The ensemble-generated mayhem may not convince, but the individual performances are persuasive. As sprightly as Jean Arthur in the celebrated Capra film, Carolyn Wright offers an uncloying Alice with a natural grace. As her improbable suitor, Daniel Shea delivers a gangly charm like Jimmy Stewart’s. Sara R. Sevigny bubbles over as the mercurial mother, but the night belongs to Dean Peerman, a Chicago veteran who brings to his wonderfully wry grandpa a lifetime of wisdom.