For over three-quarters of a century You Can’t Take It with You has filled theatres with laughter. On July 12 the Indiana Festival Theatre will continue that tradition as it presents Kaufman and Hart’s comedy in repertory with Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Both comedies will be presented in the Wells-Metz Theatre at 7th and Jordan on the IU Bloomington campus.
You Can’t Take It with You was the third play co-written by playwrights George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. In May 1936 George Kaufman was in Californian, where he and Morrie Ryskind were rewriting A Night at the Opera for the Marx Brothers. Moss Hart was writing screenplays for MGM (he had just been nominated for the Academy Award for Broadway Melody of 1936). The two writers reunited and began to collaborate in the mornings, working on their next project, which turned out to be “the one about the mad family,” an idea that Hart had come up with two years before.
In You Can’t Take It with You we are introduced, one by one, to the members of the Vanderhof family, a lovely bunch of unconventional characters. There’s Martin Vanderhof, who retired from business thirty-five years ago because he wasn’t having any fun; his daughter Penny, who gave up painting for writing plays when a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to the house; her husband Paul, who, with Mr. De Pinna (the ice man who came to the house eight years ago and simply stayed), works in the basement, creating fireworks for the upcoming Fourth of July; her daughter Essie, who makes candy and has been taking ballet lessons; Essie’s husband, Ed, who prints flyers for a hobby and plays the xylophone; Rheba, the cook, who critiques Penny’s plays; Donald, Rheba’s boyfriend, who enjoys long visits at the Vanderhof home; Kolenkhov, a Russian émigré and Essie’s ballet instructor; Gay Wellington, an alcoholic actress; and the Grand Duchess Olga Katrina, who waits tables at Childs’ Restaurant. All in all, the family and household are made up of sweet eccentrics.
About the only one who is conventional is Penny and Paul’s younger daughter Alice, who has a regular nine-to-five job at Kirby and Company down at Wall Street. She loves her family, but she has fallen in love with Tony Kirby, a vice president of the firm and the son of its president.
And that is Alice’s problem: when she and Tony become engaged, it is a natural thing for his family to meet the family of the bride-to-be. And Alice is sure that the straight-laced Mr. and Mrs. Kirby won’t exactly feel at home among the happy-go-lucky non-conformists who make up her family.
When Mr. and Mrs. Kirby, the serious businessman and his oh-so-proper wife, finally enter the world of the Vanderhofs, it is a little like trying to mix oil and water, except that it soon becomes a concoction of fire and gasoline. The second-act curtain ends with a bang—actually, many bangs, as the comic complications get blown apart like fireworks in the basement.
Solving Alice’s problem is the work of the third act, and like the rest of You Can’t Take It with You, the play continues to poke fun at American manners and, notes a critic, even succeeds “in advancing a formal critique of the business ethic.”
You Can’t Take It with You was an immediate hit in 1936 and ran on Broadway over two years (837 performances). Audiences took the play to its heart because of the “warm and wacky qualities” of the Vanderhof family, but, as critic Tomas S. Hischak notes, You Can’t Take It with You “captures the inner spirit of revolt in each one of us. There is also something so characteristically American about the comedy’s take on conventionality and unconventionality that it is endearing in a very democratic way.” The play was awarded the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Directed by Dale McFadden, the Indiana Festival Theatre production of You Can’t Take It with You features guest artists Ken Farrell (Martin Vanderhof), Abby Rowald (Penny), Rob Johansen (Paul), Ben Abbott (Donald); IU faculty members Ray Hedin (Mr. Kirby), Nancy Lipschultz (Mrs. Kirby), and Adam Noble (Kolenkhov); and IU students Nicole Bruce (Essie), Evelyn Gaynor (Rheba), Timothy Pyles (Mr. De Pinna), Jaysen Wright (Ed), Molly Casey (Alice), Aaron Densley (Tony), Clayton Gerrard (Henderson), Andrea Mellos (Gay / Olga), and Jackson Goldberg (A Man). The creative team includes scenic designer Tim Barbiaux, costume designer Jason Orlenko, lighting designer Lee Burckes, and sound designer Colin Shay. Chelsey Sorbo is the stage manager.
Check this page for the schedule of performances.