Producing “You Can’t Take It With You”
By Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
Performance length: about 2 hrs. and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
SET DESIGN: Medium
COSTUME DESIGN: Easy
You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “You Can’t Take It With You” click here
CAST POTENTIAL: This play requires a large cast for 9M and 7W with 3 extras, so there is a great deal of opportunity.
CROWD REACTION: The play’s rich theatric/film history is a testament towards its success with audiences of every generation.
Winner of the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, You Can’t Take it with You is one of the finest entries by comic duo Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman (who also wrote the very popular The Man of Who Came to Dinner). It’s about the Sycamores, a wild family filled with idiosyncrasies and oddball ambitions. This family is made larger (and stranger) by their perennial visitors, such as a Grandfather who refuses to pay the income tax, the nutty Mr. Depenna, the boisterous Russian dance instructor Boris Kolenkhov, and the alcoholic actress Gay Wellington.
When Alice Sycamore (the most “normal” of the family) becomes engaged to Tony Kirby, she becomes ashamed of her family’s oddities, and tries to prepare them for a meeting with Tony’s regal parents, who couldn’t be more “prim and proper.” To Alice’s shock, Tony brings his parents a night earlier than Alice anticipated, clashing the Kirby’s with a full, unadulterated presentation of the Sycamore’s madness!
Ultimately, this play is about the value of family. As the title suggests, you can’t take anything with you after this life, so you must honor what’s truly important. Even though Alice is ashamed of her friends and relatives, she learns that they love her dearly and life without them (and their odd behaviors) would be meaningless.
This play is filled with eccentric characters that should optimize the range and potential of your casting pool. Though these characters seem to be weird and cartoonish, they shouldn’t be played as such. Moss Hart and George Kaufman’s script expertly crafts real, human figures tainted by their ambitions and obsessed by their joys. In short, they are just like everyone else.
This play could be described as a time capsule, teleporting us back to the Golden Age of Broadway with large casts and even larger sets. All of the action takes place in a detailed, ornate living room, described as an “every-man-for-himself room” by the playwrights, filled with books, sofas, dining tables, xylophones, printing presses, etc. Audiences should feel transported to the 1930s with a realistic box set.
The costumes are period costumes for the 1930s and could be easily satisfied through a few trips to antique or thrift stores.
Given the play’s period, the servants Rheba and Donald are generally cast as black actors. This “type-casting” nowadays might offend people as racist and belittling. However, it could be meaningful to emphasize how much the Sycamore’s honor and cherish their servants, despite the racist atmosphere permeating their generation.
I find this play to be one of the most charming and satisfying pieces of the 20th century. It doesn’t mask its message or reach for profundity through any high-brow literary elements. What you see is what you get. It’s a character piece that presents its inhabitants as sincerely as possible and the comedy flows without pretention or “trying too hard.”
Given the recently announced 2010 revival, this may be a great time to mount this piece on your stage. The increased media attention should reignite an audience’s curiosity about the play and draw them to your theatre.