Raleigh Little Theatre will present Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's marvelous madcap comedy You Can't Take It with You Oct. 8-26 on its Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage. Longtime RLT artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons will direct this vintage Kaufman and Hart screwball comedy, which made its Broadway debut on Dec. 14, 1936 at the Booth Theatre, ran for 837 performances, and won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The 1938 motion-picture version of You Can't Take It with You, adapted for the silver screen by Robert Riskin and produced and directed by Frank Capra, received seven Academy Award® nominations and won the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars.
You Can't Take It with You is set in the expansive living room and dining room of Martin Vanderhof's upper West Side Manhattan townhouse. "Grandpa" Vanderhof is real character: a genuine freethinker who has permanently retired from the rat race. His sprawling residence is also home to his high-spirited family (the zany Sycamore clan!) and his extended family of certified (and, sometimes, certifiable) eccentrics. The plot focuses on the hilarious confrontations that occur when the handsome son of the hopelessly uptight Kirby family falls in love with the beautiful daughter of the wildly eccentric Sycamore family.
"I first saw this play as a youngster," says Haskell Fitz-Simons, "in a production by the Carolina Playmakers in Chapel Hill. It was a hilarious outing. I remember when the curtain went up, the audience gave the wonderfully eccentric set applause and the two kittens got frightened and took refuge in the hair of the actress playing Penny!"
He adds, "Later, I saw the rather bizarre movie made by Frank Capra — very different from the play... sort of a socialist manifesto. I also remember seeing televised productions of the play. One starred Art Carney as Grandpa and Jean Stapleton as Penny with Blythe Danner as Alice. Another televised production starred Jason Robards as Grandpa with Elizabeth Wilson as Penny. Both were wonderful!"
Fitz-Simons says, "I love the ensemble of characters that make up the cast of this show. When this show was first produced (during the Depression), it was much easier to cast shows with large casts. In fact, Messrs. Kaufman and Hart became known for their comedies with HUGE casts.
"Weighing in at 19 cast members, You Can't Take It with You is about par for the course," Fitz-Simons says. "The cast includes a number of positively delicious smaller 'cameo' roles: a temperamental IRS Man; a disenfranchised Russian Countess; a dipsomaniacal actress; a trio of belligerent G-Men."
Haskell Fitz-Simons describes the convoluted plot of this classic comedy as follows. "This is a comedy of manners with a message," he claims. "The title of the play pretty much embodies the 'Life Philosophy' of Grandpa Vanderhof (John T. Hall), who has created a modified 'Utopian-Society-in-Microcosm' for his immediate family and a few 'outsiders' lucky enough to be included in the family circle. All goes well, until Granddaughter Alice Sycamore (Adrienne Morton) falls in love with her boss's son, Tony Kirby (Ryan Stevens), thereby bringing into contact two distinctly different versions of the American Dream."
Fitz-Simons says, "Mr. Kirby (Scotty Cherryholmes), Tony's father, has attained financial success and a position of social and economic power. His achievement is contrasted with Grandpa Vanderhof's version of the American Dream: [that is,] to earn just enough money so that one can survive and do exactly what one wishes. Mr. Kirby may initially think Grandpa's ideas are 'un-American,' but the Vanderhof's infectious happiness and love for one another encourages the audience to revise their definition of the American Dream to include attainment of both material success and personal fulfillment.
"Within the Vanderhof household," Fitz-Simons adds, "Grandpa's daughter, Penny Sycamore (Elaine Mesaros) vacillates between writing (bad) plays and painting (bad) pictures. Her husband, Paul (Craige Goheen), finds his bliss in creating fantastical firework displays in the basement. Daughter Essie (Jessica Smith) desires a career as a ballerina... or candy maker; her husband, Ed (Joel Horton), is mastering the art of the xylophone while working to become a master printer.
"Also members of the household," Fitz-Simons says, "are Rheba (Alison Lawrence), the Irish cook, and her boyfriend, Donald (Collin Beck). In addition, the household includes Mr. DePenna (Tim Wiest), the iceman who came eight years ago and never left. Outside the household are: Essie's Russian ballet teacher, Mr. Kolenkhov; Tony, his father, and his mother (Amy Flynn); Gay Wellington (Janis Coville), an actress with a drinking problem whom Penny has brought in to help read one of her scripts; Mr. Henderson (Byron Jennings), a highly strung IRS worker; and three G-Men (Jon Karnovsky, Jason Roberts, and JJ Walter)."
In addition to director Haskell Fitz-Simons, this show's production team includes scenic designer Roger Bridges, lighting designer Rick Young, costume designer Vicki Olson, and sound designers Roger Bridges and Ken Nyren.
Fitz-Simons says the creative challenges of staging a community-theater production of this epic comedy include "casting the show; a number of showy special effects; kittens; etc." In a big, big show with more than its share of literal and figurative fireworks, another challenge will be keeping the kitties out of his actresses' hair!
Raleigh Little Theatre presents You Can't Take It With You Friday-Saturday, Oct. 8-9, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 10, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, Oct. 13-16 and 20-23, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 17 and 24, at 8 p.m. on RLT's Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $14 Wednesday, $18 Thursday/Sunday, and $20 Friday-Saturday, except $12 student and senior rate for Sunday matinees. 919/821-3111. Note 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices for the hard of hearing available at all shows. Note 2: There will be audio description for people who are blind or have low-vision at the Oct. 10 Sunday matinee. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/youcant.htm. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/Show.asp?id=9527. Internet Movie Database (1938 Film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0030993/.