George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's Pulitzer Prize winning comedy, You Can't Take It with You, premiered at the Booth Theater on December 14, 1936, and had a respectable run of 838 performances. It has since enjoyed several successful Broadway revivals and was the basis for the 1938 Academy Award winning film directed by Frank Capra.
Life is pleasantly daft at the roomy uptown New York City home of Grandpa Vanderhof, a lifely little man of seventy-five who, for the last thirty-five years, has been determinedly "relaxing" and having fun--collecting snakes and attending commencement exercises. He has a small income from a rented house and an interesting family who, like Grandpa, do just as they please.
Penelope Vanderhof Sycamore, or Penny, his daughter, a gentle and plump little woman of fifty, is writing her eleventh play; playwriting suggested itself to her eight years ago when a typewriter was delivered to the house by mistake. Essie, her pixie daughter, about twenty-nine years old, a dance enthusiast, wears ballet slippers almost all the time, but as a vocation she makes Love Dream Candies which her husband, Ed Carmichael, a devotee of the xylophone, sells. Paul Sycamore, Penelope's husband, manufactures fireworks in the cellar, with the assistance of Mr. DePinna who came to the house to deliver the ice eight years ago and has remained ever since. Granddaughter Alice is a lovely, quiet and conventional girl of twenty-two. Rheba, the cook, and Donald, her friend and helper, complete the household, but a semi-official member is Mr. Kolenkhov, a Russian dancer who gives Essie dancing lessons.
Essie, while dancing dreamily to Ed's xylophone, has just remembered to inform Grandpa that there have been a few letters for him within the last couple of weeks from the United States Government (nobody remembers just what became of them). Alice comes home from work and creates mild excitement when she announces that the boss's son, Tony Kirby, is calling for her later to go to a theater. Alice loves and understands her family, but she begs them to be on their best behavior when Tony arrives.
While Alice is dressing, a young man comes to the door and Penny greets him effusively, thinking he is Kirby. But he turns out to be Mr. Henderson, a revenue agent, whose letters to Grandpa have gone unanswered. He wishes to collect twenty-two years worth of back income taxes from him. Grandpa questions him pointedly as to just what he would get for his money, and Mr. Henderson leaves with threats. On the way out he bumps into pet snakes, hears a test salute of bombs from the cellar, and abandons his Panama hat which, by coincidence, just fits Grandpa.
Mr. Kirby, a nice young man not long out of Yale, arrives soon after and meets the beaming family. Before Alice can hurry down, the friendly Grandpa has offered him a tomato, Penny has passed the candy from a plaster-skull ashtray, and Mr. DePinna thinks he remembers having read that Tony's father was recently indicted. Alice and Kirby leave for the theater.
When they return later in the evening, the living room is in darkness, but the strains of Donald's accordion can be heard upstairs, and there comes an occasional loud bang from the fireworks-makers in the cellar below. Donald comes down in his nightshirt for some candy, and Penny, in a bathrobe, makes a brief appearance to get her manuscript, "Sex Takes a Holiday." Essie and Ed return from a movie and casually discuss Grandpa's approval of their having a baby. Tony eventually seizes an opportunity to tell Alice that he loves her. She confesses her love for him, but declares that her family is a different world from his--"it just wouldn't work." Tony convinces her, however, that they can't live apart.
A week later, there is much activity--and worry for Alice--in planning a get-acquainted dinner for Tony's parents who are invited for the following night. A visitor of the day is Gay Wellington, an actress whom Penny has met on a bus and has induced to read her play. Miss Wellington, an enthusiastic drinker, now quite subdued by gin and the effect of seeing Grandpa's snakes, has passed out on the couch.
Details of the epochal party have been settled by evening, and Penny, in a smock and rakish tam-o'-shanter, is finishing a painting of a discus thrower--Mr. DePinna, in Roman costume, posing as model. Miss Wellington, still prone on the couch, opens her eyes, sees Mr. DePinna, and passes out again. Grandpa has found some feathered darts and is throwing them at targets, giving an occasional regretful glance at Miss Wellington's adequate posterior. The huge and hairy Mr. Kolenkhov, shirtless on this hot night, is teaching Essie, who is in full ballet costume, some new dance turns. Ed is playing the xylophone. The doorbell rings, and into this setting come the three Kirbys, in full evening dress. Tony, it seems, has confused the date of the party and they have arrived a day early.
The Kirbys are greatly embarrassed and start to withdraw, but Grandpa insists that they come in. Penny seconds him with the assurance that the Sycamores were "just spending a quiet evening at home." The snake is removed to quiet Mrs. Kirby, and Penny sends Donald to the A. and P. for frankfurters (Mr. Kirby suffers from indigestion), canned corn and soup.
For Alice, who comes home just then, the evening is a nightmare. First, Miss Wellington snorts back to consciousness and weaves out of the room, pausing to call "Hello, Cutie!" to Mr. Kirby and to coyly muss his hair. After dinner, Mr. Kolenkhov, discussing wrestling, suddenly hurls Mr. Kirby to the floor and sits triumphantly upon him. Later, at Penny's insistence, they all play a word game which develops hints of some discord between the elder Kirbys.
Alice gives up when Mrs. Kirby suggests that it is time to go. She tells Tony that their romance is impossible. The elder Kirbys leave, but soon return--bundled in by Department of Justice agents who have become suspicious of the random messages (such as "Dynamite the Capitol!") which Ed, who just likes to print, has been enclosing in his candy boxes. The G-men find the explosives in the cellar and order everybody under arrest. They refust to permit Mr. DePinna to return to the cellar for his pipe and, as the party is marshaled for the trip to a police station, a year's supply of firecrackers, pinwheels and assorted fireworks explodes and shakes the house.
The following day, the Sycamores are somewhat subdued by the collapse of Alice's romance, although they cheer up a bit when they recall that Mrs. Kirby was put in the same cell with Rheba and a strip-teaser, and that Mr. Kirby was discomfited when ordered to share his bath with Donald. All, after a night in jail, have received suspended sentences for making fireworks without a license. Mr. Kirby refused to explain why he was on the premises at all.
Tony has come on a fruitless errand to see Alice. Kolenkhov is there and asks if he may invite the Grand Duchess, Olga Katrina, who has the day off from her duties as a waitress at Childs, to dinner. The Sycamores are delighted, and the Grand Duchess--every inch the Grand Duchess, despite an ancient dinner gown and a moth-eaten fur--sweeps in. Soon she has taken charge of the kitchen to make blintzes.
Mr. Kirby comes to fetch Tony (who is now ready to go, after repeated rebuffs by Alice), but he is halted by Grandpa's challenge that Tony is too nice a boy "to wake up twenty years from now ... mixed up and unhappy" the way his father is. The outraged Mr. Kirby shouts that he is not unhappy. He views as un-American Grandpa's argument that money-chasing isn't everything--you can't take it with you. Tony bolsters Grandpa's argument for the happy life, reminding Mr. Kirby that he still secretly cheriches a forbidden boyhood saxophone in the back of his clothes closet. Tony confesses that he purposely confused the date of the dinner party so that his people could see a really happy family. He declares that he is through forever with his father's office which he hates.
Mr. Kirby is looking at his son with new interest when the Grand Duchess appears to ask how many there will be for dinner. "The Czar always said to me, 'Olga, do not be stingy with the blintzes,'" she tells them. Grandpa presents the awed Mr. Kirby, who agrees that he would like very much to stay stay to dinner with Tony who is now embracing the happy Alice. Penny interrupts to recall that another letter apologizes to Grandpa who, the government has discovered, is dead and doesn't owe a cent. It seems that, eight years ago, the Sycamores had casually buried Charlie, the milkman who had stayed with them for five years, under Grandpa's name, since no one knew his own name, and now Grandpa has simply told the government that he is Martin Vanderhof, Jr.
Dinner is served, and Mr. Kirby reluctantly defers his intensive study of Ed's xylophone to go to the table. Penny warns him that he must be careful of his indigestion, but he answers, "Nonsense! I haven't any indigestion," as the blintzes are borne in.
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