YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, Raven Theatre. With its bland "stop and smell the roses" philosophy and its call for the mildest, safest, most sexless nonconformism imaginable, never venturing beyond a healthy contempt for workaholics, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's 1936 comedy is hardly risky theater. That's why it's been popular fare for generations in community theaters and junior high and high school drama classes. That this sweet 61-year-old comedy is popular again with professional theaters says as much about the mind-set of contemporary theater producers--who are afraid of new material and terrified of offending the elderly "radio generation" audience and can't for the life of them attract people born after World War II--as it does about the strength of Kaufman and Hart's material.
Still, if we must live on a diet of the same old safe ones, let them be as well cast, well directed, and well performed as in this glorious production. Using a non-Equity cast of Raven Theatre regulars--JoAnn Montemurro, Bill McGough, Chuck Spencer--plus a few others, director Michael Menendian takes full advantage of a rich script about a family of lovable eccentrics, exploring its multilayered characters and successfully mining every comic possibility in the story. Most impressive is how often this energetic, committed cast make the play seem fresh and new, even to someone who's seen three productions of it in as many years.