You Can’t Take it With You.
No, you can’t.
What a wonderful play. What a heartwarming, sweet, tender, funny, whacky ride.
About the Authors
You Can’t Take it With You was written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The two of them wrote many plays together, and many plays separately.
George S. Kaufman
Kaufman grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 16th, 1889. He originally studied law, but quickly grew tired of it. His first writing job was at the Washington Times as a humor columnist. He progressed to being a drama critic for the New York Tribune, then became a drama editor at the New York Times. His broadway writing debut on September 4th, 1918 was with the play Someone in the House, co-written by Walter C. Percival. He would go on to write many straight plays and musicals with some of the most distinguished members of the Broadway world until his death on June 2nd, 1961, at the age of 71.
Hart was born on October 24, 1904 in New York City to Jewish immigrant parents. He was very close with his Aunt Kate; the person to first peak his interest in the theatre by taking him to see stage plays. She ended up having a falling out with him and his parents, due to her declining mental health, which caused her to be erratic and violent. His professional life in the theatre started with directing, and then made his Broadway debut with a play that he wrote with Kaufman, Once in a Lifetime. His most famous work was the book for My Fair Lady. Hart continued writing and directing both plays and films, and collected many prestigious awards. He died on December 20, 1961 from a heart attack, just months before Kaufman’s death.
Martin Vanderhoff (aka Grandpa)
The patriarch of the family. Martin is an eccentric man who left his job 35 years prior purely because he wanted to relax. He has pet snakes, collects stamps, goes to circuses, and basically just has the philosophy that you should only ever do things that make you happy. He also has never paid income tax, saying that the government wouldn’t know what to do with his money if he gave it to them.
Penelope Sycamore (aka Penny)
Daughter of Martin, wife of Paul, and mother of Essie and Alice. She is a writer of “romance” plays, and loves to paint on the side. She is always concerned about the happiness of everyone in her family, especially Alice.
Penny’s husband. He and his assistant, Mr. De Pinna, make fireworks in the basement.
Daughter of Penny and Paul, sister of Alice and wife of Ed. She is a candy maker who dances. Despite studying with a prestigious Russian ballet teacher, she has managed to remain a terrible dancer.
Daughter of Penny and Paul, sister of Essie, and fiance of Tony. The only “normal” one in the family who has a “normal” office job and a “realistic” view of the world. She loves her family with all of her heart, but is still often embarrassed by them.
Alice’s fiance. The Vice President of his family’s company, Kirby and Co. He comes from a very straight-laced, tight-lipped family, making it a total culture shock when he meets Alice’s family. However, he learns that her family’s loving and accepting way of life has the right idea, as opposed to his own strict and unaffectionate family.
The maid and cook of the house. This warm, maternal African American woman is beloved and treated as part of the family. She is dating Donald.
Dating Rheba. He is a handyman who comes and does odd jobs for the family.
Mr. De Pinna
The family’s iceman who came in one day eight years previously to talk to Paul, and then just never left. He makes fireworks with Paul by day, and by night models for Penny’s erotic paintings.
Essie’s husband. Ed sells Essie’s candies for her on the side, but his main gig is playing the xylophone. He has a slight obsession with printing, and enjoys printing out dinner menus, quotes for Essies candy, and other things for the family. He also enjoys making masks.
Anthony W. Kirby & Miriam Kirby
Tony’s parents. Both are prim and proper. He secretly hates his job, but does it for the money. He raises orchids on the side, while her hobby is spiritualism. They are both horrified by the eccentricities of Alice’s family.
The world-renowned ballet teacher, who has been painstakingly and unsuccessfully attempting to teach Essie. However, he sees how much she loves to dance, so he is patient with her. He moved to America just before the start of the Russian revolution. He is fascinated with philosophy and societal psychology, and is very invested in the state of Russia.
An actress that Penny finds on the bus and takes to the house. Gay gets very, very drunk and passes out.
Wilbur C. Henderson
An IRS agent who comes to collect the years of accumulated, unpaid income tax owed by Grandpa. Is confused as to the reasons why Grandpa won’t pay.
The Grand Duchess Olga Katrina
A duchess from Russia who was forced to flee because of the revolution. She now works as a waitress in Child’s Restaurant. She still loves to wear her extravagant gowns.
G-Man 1, G-Man 2, G-Man 3
Three agents sent to investigate Ed because of the communist quotes he printed and stuck in the boxes of candy that Essie made.
About the Play
You Can’t Take it With You takes place in the house of the eccentric family.
Alice comes home to tell the family that she is engaged and that they are going to meet her fiance soon. She goes upstairs to change, and the doorbell rings. Penny answers the door and brings a young man in, introducing him to the family as Alice’s fiance. The confused man corrects her by informing them that he is actually a tax investigator, here to claim the 24 years of income tax that Grandpa has neglected to pay. Grandpa explains his reasons for not wanting to pay tax, and the tax collector gets more and more infuriated, before seeing Grandpa’s pet snakes and running out of the house in fear, though not before informing Grandpa that he will be hearing from the US government.
That’s when the real Tony Kirby appears at the door.
Boris, the ballet teacher, arrives soon after and starts on about the subject of the Russian revolution. Alice, nervous that her eccentric family will scare Tony off, leaves with him immediately. The family settles down for dinner.
Alice and Tony return later that night and have a glass of wine. Alice then breaks down and tells him that she doesn’t think their marriage will work because her family is just too eccentric. Tony argues that none of that matters, and their love is what is most important. He ends up winning her over, though their conversation is constantly interrupted by Essie, Ed and Donald, who are all wandering around doing their business.
A few days later, the family is preparing for Tony and his parents for the following evening.
While Alice is desperately trying to make her family and the house as “normal” as possible, Penny brings home Gay Wellington, an actress, to read her newest play. However, Gay is very drunk and ends up passing out on the floor. Ed returns from delivering Essie’s candies, worried that he’s being followed. Mr. De Pinna checks out the window and only sees someone walking away, so Ed is sent back out to deliver more candies.
Paul and Mr. De Pinna emerge from the basement where they were making fireworks, and Mr. De Pinna asks Penny to finish the painting of him as a discus thrower she has started.
The two of them exit, and Mr. Kolenkhov arrives to work with Essie on ballet. As she dances to the music that Ed plays on the xylophone, Rheba is running around cleaning, and Grandpa is both practicing darts and feeding his snakes. The Kirbys arrive in the midst of this madness.
They are shocked at the chaos before them, and Alice is incredibly embarrassed.
Tony explains that he must’ve gotten the night wrong – he thought that dinner was this night, not the next night. Penny says not to worry and sends Donald to the store to pick up some groceries. Try as they might, the family just can not keep it together, including Penny insulting Mrs. Kirby’s hobby of spiritualism and Mr. Kolenkhov demonstrating “wrestling” by throwing Mr. Kirby on the floor. Penny then suggests that they play a word association game, despite Alice’s protests. More tension is created as the characters all name words that insult one another. Tony’s parents stand up to leave and demand that Tony leaves with them. Tony doesn’t want to, and Alice ends up calling off the engagement and quitting her job at the company.
As they are trying to leave, a representative from the department of justice arrives to arrest the family because of Communist notes that Ed has left in Essie’s candy boxes.
Then, the agents find the gunpowder in the basement, which they don’t realize is for fireworks and assume is for blowing up Washington. They drag Mr. De Pinna out and another agent pulls Gay down from upstairs, who is drunkenly singing to herself. Suddenly, there is an explosion from downstairs, set off by Mr. De Pinna’s lit pipe near the gunpowder.
The next morning, Rheba and Donald are in the kitchen, reading an article in the newspaper about the pandemonium from the night before.
Alice plans to leave, upset that her family is not “normal”. Tony is there, trying make up with her. Mr Kolenkhov arrives with the Grand Duchess Olga Katrina, wearing an old gown, discussing the state of Russian affairs. Tony’s father arrives to collect Tony and settle the score with grandpa. A big argument breaks out between the two of them, in which it is revealed that Mr. Kirby used to play the saxophone, and it is still in his closet. The remembrance of his favorite thing softens him, and he ends up giving Alice and Tony his consent.
Grandpa receives a letter from the government, and we find out that Grandpa has lied to the government, telling them that he was his father. They fall for the gimmick, and now say that they owe grandpa a refund. The play ends with them all eating happily together as a family.
The movie version of You Can’t Take it With You was directed by Frank Capra (the director of It’s a Wonderful Life”) and starred James Stewart and Jean Arthur.
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My name is Andrea and I live in Los Angeles, California. By day, I am in actor and by night I am working towards a degree in nutritional science.