There's a lot to like at the front and the end of You Can't Take It With You at the Longacre Theater, but there's a lot to work through in the middle. The chaos that enthralls young Alice's life when she gets engaged to the child of New York socialites can be captivating. After all, lots of plays begin with the proposition that two families from different economic classes would have to unite. However, this production goes a bit off the rails during its second act, relying on enough comedy to placate the audience in hopes that they will remain distracted enough not to pout when the going gets tough again.
Scott Ellis's take on the 1936 comedy works for a while. The show is aided by the strong presence of James Earl Jones's grandfather character, someone who always seems to deliver the right punchline when the tension becomes too much to bear. Jones's best work in this play, though, comes near the end as a beacon of wisdom when you least expect it. He's a happy-go-lucky guy who almost makes it noble to be free of responsibility.
Annaleigh Ashford's Essie is also a fan-favorite, a free-spirited dancer who you can tell has a big heart buried beneath her ridiculous wardrobe. This family is immensely supportive of one another, to a fault, and wears hopefulness on their sleeves. It's only when they come into conflict with more pragmatic folks that they begin to seem strange.
The show reaches new heights for absurdity midway through the show, and leaves you longing for the heartfelt, sincere, and warm family from earlier on. By the time the third act rolls around, it's too late to get back to the way things were. Sure, you leave with hope that these two families will resolve their issues and come together. But that's too easy. What makes the first part of the play so intriguing is how subtle it is, and the characters are. When the action starts up and speeds past all of them, the play cannot recover fully. The funny and lovable moments feel too fleeting and it's hard to know anymore what's real.