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Season Info

You Can't Take it With You
By Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman

Eileen T'Kaye, William Dennis Hunt, Stuart Lancaster, Chris Van Vleet, and Patricia Cullen

Scenic Designer
Lighting Designer
Sound Designer
Costume Designer
Associate Director
Assistant Director
Directing Intern

David Rose
Barbara Beckley
Hap Lawrence
Gary Christensen
Annie Heller
Ted C. Giamonna
D. Ewing Woodruff
Joyce Killingsworth
Jan O'Connor
Brett Elliott

CAST (in order of appearance):

Penelope Sycamore
Essie Sycamore Carmichael
Paul Sycamore
Mr DePinna
Ed Carmichael
Martin Vanderholf
Alice Sycamore
Tony Kirby
Boris Kolenkov
Gay Wellington
Mr. Kirby 
Mrs. Kirby
Eileen T’Kaye
Rachel Sheppard
Dee Freeman
Whitney Rydbeck
Kurt Boesen
Todd Nielsen
Desi Bullock
Stuart Lancaster
Denise Dillard
Robert Stephan Ryan
Chris Van Vleet
Jim Brochu
Charmaine Blakely
William Dennis Hunt
Patricia Cullen
Tom Hall 
D.E. Woodruff


The home of Martin Vanderhof, New York, just around the corner from Columbia University.


A Wednesday evening in Spring, 1936.


A week later.


The next day.

Two Depression Plays and Broadway’s Popular Idealism

In 1936, when Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You won the Pulitzer Prize, critics called it "superior fooling," "thoroughly amusing," "winningly tender," "all absurdity," "full of hilarious incongruities and extravagances, without any serious contribution to social or political philosophy." One critic wrote, pointedly, that New York theatre always had room for "pleasant comedies" without any "cross or disagreeable" characters.

These judgements take on greater resonance when seen against the background of the theatre of the nineteen-thirties, which saw the flowering of plays of social protest, of "proletarian" theatre, often grim and humorless depictions of life as it was being lived during the Great Depression. You Can’t Take It With You was thus greeted by some with relief as an escape from the harsh realities just outside the theatre doors, the realities portrayed, for example, in Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing, perhaps the most successful of those mounted by the Group Theatre. These two plays, mirror-images of each other, offer a revealing glimpse into the Depression era.

Both plays deal with a family’s response to the social and economic pressures of the period. They are both (in Odets’ words) "struggling for life amidst petty conditions." In each play, the central figure is a philosophic grandfather whose ideas motivate the actions and behavior of the other family members. In Awake and Sing, the choices of the two Berger children — one to flee, the other to stay and fight for a better life — have as their common source the middle-class desire to improve the quality of their lives, of those "that dwell in the dust" (to complete the Biblical allusion of the title). The uninhibited members of the Vanderhof family, on the other hand, have not only awakened to sing but also dance, play the xylophone, make candy, write plays, throw darts, feed snakes, and in general practice the twin gospels of total relaxation and total individualism.

Indeed, the titles of the two plays are interchangeable. You Can’t Take It With You is a jazzy restatement of the carpe diem theme, which is the precisely the anti-materialistic gospel that Odets’ Grandpa Jacob preaches — that the making of money is not the purpose of life. The Vanderhof family patriarch has already put that doctrine into practice; he now takes "time to notice when spring comes around." Grandpa Jacob rejects a life "printed on dollar bills" because it lacks dignity; Grandpa Vanderhof rejects it because it’s no fun. "Do what is in your heart and you carry in yourself a revolution," says one grandfather — and the other would agree wholeheartedly.

Both the ostensibly realistic drama and the extravagantly nonsensical farce point to the basic American idealism that lurks just below the surface of our often brazen materialism. It isn’t surprising that these plays were popular and successful in the mid-thirties. For both are basically consolatory and sentimental comedies that restate a familiar American principle: namely the integrity of the individual and one’s right to dig in heels, rear back, and holler — or just to opt out, another milder but no less personal way of asserting one’s individualism.

The terms of assertion in the two plays are different, but the underlying theme, evoked by the times, is identical. At a time when the individual seemed to be at the mercy of impersonal and powerful economic forces, the theme of individual dignity and freedom must be reckoned as a criticism of existing conditions — and as an American ideal too important to be forgotten.

 — Charles Kaplan

Charles Kaplan is a Colony Subscriber and Emeritus Professor of English at California State University at Northridge. 

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