My sister and I more or less have a rule that we see a Broadway show when she’s in town. We don’t follow theater too closely, but right now there are two shows we really want to see: You Can’t Take It With You, and It’s Only a Play. We saw the former last night, and it was lovely.
I’ve seen high school and college performances of this play before (it’s a Kaufman & Hart classic) but never a professional one. Of course a Broadway production is going to be of a different caliber than a high school show, but I don’t think that was what made me look at the play differently this time. I think it was the fact that I’d never seen Penny Sycamore played by someone who could actually be a middle-aged mom, or the Grandpa played by someone who could actually be a grandpa.
That someone who could actually be a grandpa, by the way, was James Earl Jones. As you’d expect, he was amazing, delivering perfectly timed one-liners and kind of just sitting there grinning the whole time. It almost felt like he was grinning at the spectacle before him, simply joyful because he got to be in this weird little family in a fun little play. And it just so happens that sitting there grinning works perfectly for the character.
There was an interview in the Playbill with Kristine Nielsen, who plays Penny Sycamore, matriarch of the crazy family around which the show centers. “This play is about collectivism. It is ‘take care of each other,'” she said while discussing her role. I liked that. During the show, I kept thinking of The Royal Tenenbaums. A movie, not a play, but still a story about a family that’s slightly…off. No one is normal. They have spats and disagreements. They can be ashamed of each other. But they also know they’re family. They take care of each other.
We’re all a little off, but we take care of each other anyway. That’s family. The family you’re born into, and the family you create for yourself among friends. Either way, I know I’m lucky to have mine.