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Depression-era’s ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ still very funny

A scene from Village Players’ “You Can’t Take It With You.”

Jhenai Mootz, Bryan Wakefield, Josh Wintersteen, Zoe Palko and James Turano, from left, in Village Players’ hilarious “You Can’t Take It With You.”

I’ve noted before that hard times evoke nostalgia in theater directors, but George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s “You Can’t Take It With You” needs no such impetus to be worth a revival.

Although this 1937 Pulitzer Prize winner certainly shows its origins in the Great Depression, “You Can’t Take It With You” is one of the funniest and most endearing plays of the 20th century, and it remains hilarious. Everyone should know this play.

If you haven’t seen it, take advantage of Village Players’ fine production in Oak Park.

The story follows the eccentric Sycamore family. Martin Vanderhof (Paul Tinsley), the retired patriarch, spends his days going to college commencements and collecting snakes. His daughter, Penelope (Judith Laughlin), has spent the past eight years engaged in writing never-finished plays. Penny’s husband, Paul Sycamore (Errol McLendon), manufactures fireworks in the basement with help from the family’s lodger, Mr. DePinna (Eric Cowgill). Housekeeper Rheba (Elana Elyce), serves up dinners of corn flakes and watermelon and entertains her boyfriend, Donald (Ronaldo Coxon), overnight.

Granddaughter Essie (Zoe Palko), makes candies for sale but spends every spare moment practicing, unsuccessfully, to be a ballerina. As her boisterous Russian dance teacher, Boris Kolenkhov (Jeff McVann), puts it, “She stinks.” Essie’s husband, Ed Carmichael (Josh Wintersteen), prints up unlikely circulars on a hobby letterpress and plays the xylophone.

The most conventional member of the clan, granddaughter Alice (Jhenai Mootz), a secretary, is in love with her boss’s son, Tony Kirby (Bryan Wakefield), but fears her beloved but trying family won’t pass muster with his stuffy, Wall Street father (James Turano) and snobbish socialite mother (Katherine Keberlein). Also drifting through the scenes are an IRS investigator (Michael M. Jones), a couple of G-men (Jones and Anthony Collaro), a drunken actress and the Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (Courtney Boxwell).

They don’t write plays like this one anymore.

Village Players’ whole cast merits kudos for this ensemble piece. As Martin Vanderhof, Tinsley is perhaps overly laconic, but Laughlin does an especially sweet job as Penny and Palko is wonderfully zany as Essie. Coxon offers some rare comic turns as Donald, as well. Ricky Lurie’s effective period costumes deserve mention, too, particularly Essie’s absurd ballet bloomers.

A little acquaintance with 1930s popular history will enrich your experience, but is by no means required.

Village Players Theater’s ‘You Can’t Take It With You’

Theater: Village Players Performing Arts Center in Oak Park.

Showtimes: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 22.

Tickets: $25, $20 seniors and students.

Dining: New Rebozo Mexican Restaurant has no thematic link to the play — which makes it fit perfectly — but it’s just a few doors away so you won’t have to move the car. Allow plenty of time, though.