Saturday, October 24, 2009

You Can't Take It With You - by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman

A comedy in Three Acts it says on the cover and that's exactly right. Premiered in 1936, You Can't Take It With You takes place in the home of Martin Vanderhof in New York City "just around the corner from Columbia University, but don't go looking for it," according to the stage directions. (The stage directions have a great tone, like someone from that era is kindof chatting you through the play.)

Martin Vanderhof's family and assorted others live in his house and do as they will, write plays, make candy in the kitchen and fireworks in the basement, run a printing press and study ballet, among other things. As it's a comedy there's a love story running the plot - Alice, the youngest grand-daughter works as a secretary on wall street and is seeing the boss's son. The first scene of the first act introduces the characters of the house and sets the scene. In the second scene Alice and her beau, Tony, get engaged and plan for the families to meet.

The Second Act is the evening before the scheduled meeting - dance class is going on, a portrait is being painted, explosions from the basement - and Tony's well-to-do family comes over on the wrong night. Social discomfort gives way to grand mis-steps as the worlds collide, Alice breaks it off, the parents leave and before they can go the whole house is placed under arrest for the distribution of revolutionary slogans (Trotsky - he liked they way they looked printed) and the gun powder blows up in the basement.

In the Third Act, also one continuous scene, Alice is trying to leave for the Adirondacks, Tony is trying to win her back, the dance teacher brings over a russian Grand Duchess - now a waitress at Child's Times Square and dinner is being made though no one has an appetite. Tony's father comes to fetch him back and Grandpa intervenes, talks about people being able to do as they will - not spend their time doing what they don't like out of habit or expectations. He quit business 35 years ago and never looked back, the father comes around, reminded of his past wishes to play the saxophone and fly on the trapeeze. Alice and Tony are re-united and Dinner is served. Grandpa says the blessing, (this echoing a previous blessing in the first act)
Well, Sir, here we are again. We want to say thanks once more for everything You've done for us. Things seem to be going along fine. Alice is going to marry Tony, and it looks as if they're going to be very happy. Of course the fireworks blew up, but that was Mr. DePinna's fault, not Yours. We've got our health and as far as anything else is concerned we'll leave it to You. Thank You. - Grandpa, Act III.
Written and premiered during the Great Depression there are references to that throughout - a character on relief, a Russian Emigre inserting comments about the five-year plan, there's a sub-plot of 20 some years of back income tax owed by Grandpa - averted because they buried a man under his name a few years back. The house is filled with activity, all of it chosen and purposeful to the person doing it - some for profit, some for the sake of doing and the family both by birth and those who have just decided to stay seem to enjoy one another as they are. Even when they say their painting stinks its not to stop them from doing it, just a statement of opinion.

So, I teared up at the end. I always do. I've read this one before - got to be in it in High School - as the dancer - and it's a beauty of a comedy.

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