You Can't Take It With You, Or Can You?

Stratton Walling, Kristin Bohr, John Bow, Richard Earl, Kate Konigisor, Marc Improta

You Can't Take it With You comes to the Surflight with a formidable pedigree. This  three-act play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman won the Pulitzer Prize when it debuted in 1936 and the 1939  movie version was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning for Best Picture and Best Director (Frank Capra).

It's certainly a charming play. It tells the story of the Sycamores, an eccentric family whose "do your own thing" philosophy prefigures the 1960s mantra by a good three decades.  Paul, the father, (Richard Earl)  makes fireworks in the basement with a Mr. DePinna (Andrew Foote), an iceman who cameth one day some years ago and never wenteth.  Penelope, the mother, (Kate Konigisor) writes plays she never seems to finish, while daughter Essie (Kristin Bohr) takes years of dancing lessons from Mr. Kohlenkov (Michael Beltran) with little hope (or inclination, it appears) to actually dance on stage. Oh, and she also makes candies. Essie's husband Ed (John Anker Bow) shows a lack of ambition that fits right in with his in-laws. He likes printing up radical leftist slogans on his printing press and inserting them into Essie's candies. The black maid Rheba (Ruperta Rose Nelson) and her paramour Donald (Tajuan Randolph) are surprisingly well-integrated into the goings on for a play written in the first half of the twentieth century.

Kate Konigisor and Richard Earl

The plot revolves around daughter Alice's (Kristen Alberda) falling in love with her boss,  the handsome Tony Kirby (Marc Improta). When Tony's stuffy parents (Vince Urbani and Andrea McCullough) come to dinner a day earlier than expected, things get pretty crazy, which is where 1930s screwball comedies always head anyway. To add to the mayhem a drunken actress, Gay Wellington,  (Pook Pfaffe) and a Russian princess turned waitress named Olga (Anita Hollander) join the fray.

Big cast huh? And I haven't even mentioned a couple of the minor players. Nor have I mentioned the show's true star: Grampa Martin Vanderhoff (Stratton Walling). If anyone is responsible for this  motley collection of underachievers, it's Grampa. Thirty-five years ago he just dropped out of the rat race (such as it was  at the beginning of the 20th Century) and decided to just indulge his penchant for attending college commencements, catching snakes and other fun but unprofitable activities.

I enjoyed this play and I think you will too. I can't say I would rate it as Pulitzer Prize or Best Picture material but it's a lot of fun. It's also been influential. Where have we seen a weird family with one "normal" daughter? The Munsters comes to mind. Where have we seen a family of artistic eccentrics?  How about The Royal Tenenbaums? And I'm sure you could come up with more examples. I think the reason the theme of You Can't Take It With You has been so often plumbed by Hollywood is that it is one almost all of us confront.  Should I go for the money or for the psychic satisfaction? Can I manage to find work that gives me both? If I go for the money, when do I live for myself?

This is the question Grampa Vanderhof asked himself  35 years ago. He found his answer. Interestingly enough I'm sure the man who plays him, Stratton Walling, has too. Walling's performance is flawless. And understandably so.  He first encountered Grampa 62 years ago, when he played Ed. As recently as June he played Grampa in a production in the Hamptons.  So this superb actor has been at it for well over half a century. He's not famous. If he's rich, he didn't get that way working for companies like Surflight and the Hampton Theater Company. But you can tell he truly loves what he does.  Perhaps that's why he says his lines with such conviction, like this one he says to Tony's dad:

"Maybe it'll stop you trying to be so desperate about making more money than you can ever use. You can't take it with you, Mr. Kirby. So what good is it? As near as I can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends."

Amen Brother Walling. Amen.

At the Surflight October 6  - 9, 2004 at 8:00 pm;  October 7 & 10 at 2:00 pm.