‘You Can’t Take It With You,’ But You CAN Learn Much from This Depression-Era Play

By Molly Shoulta ‘13

Detectives Meredith Cave, left, and Cheryl Brumley arrest the attention of the Maskrafters’ “You Can’t Take it With You” cast. Seated, from left: Keisha Taylor, Paul Eddy and Austin Conway; standing, from left: Jonathan Yelton, Amanda Williamson and Amanda Kachler.

In a world of flat screen televisions and phones with far more functions than actually needed, a sense of inconvenience has been lessened to sitting for more than a half hour in traffic. Generation “Y” and even Generation “X” cannot fully understand inconvenience like those in the generation before. The Great Depression emblazoned an understanding of material nothingness but then sense of pride in work and in family appreciation like no other time in modern history.

The frightening part, however, is that this previously escaped and remedied reality for some may be in the near future for others. Paul Farrell of marketwatch.com postulates the next Great Depression will be seen by 2011, if not sooner, because of bailouts and continued debt. Just exactly when, however, is uncertain.

Wall Street execs all the way to local cashiers are finding themselves searching for optimism to grab onto. But playwrights Hart and Kaufman would have anyone believe that hope is not found in the bailout packages.

The end of October will open the curtain to the Georgetown Maskrafters’ production of “You Can’t Take It With You,” a play surrounding the Great Depression in the 1930’s. This is the second time the play has been at Georgetown; it appeared twenty-five years ago as well with some familiar faces involved in production including Ed Smith, now a professor with the Theatre & Performance Studies department, his wife Betsy, and Garvel Kindrick, now the College’s Vice President for Enrollment.

This time around, however, Dr. Smith’s son, Ethan, is under the direction of George McGee. “It’s always interesting,” Ethan explains. “You have to create a character in your head and be able to change them when the director tells you to.” He also spoke of the challenge but reward it is to work with the other actors, trying to shape the play’s time period and characterization just right.

The play opens to the living room in the home of Mr. Martin Vanderhof, known as Grandpa, which the playwright explains could be used for a myriad of entertainments: “meals are eaten, played are written, snakes collected, ballet steps practiced, xylophones played, printing presses operated – if there were room enough there would probably be ice skating.” The colorful family’s living condition is shaped by the fact that Grandpa walked away from a life in business simply because his passion for his work was no longer there. So for the time being, the family lives in a house, free to do whatever they wish.

The plotline follows the blossoming love story of Alice and Tony through three acts. While Tony’s family strives for the riches in life and seems to follow the societal current of materialism, Alice is a Vanderhof, though still the most normal of them. Their love story seems impossible. As the families convene for the first time over dinner at Grandpa’s house, their differences are all too obvious. Each sees the flaws in the other’s way of living. For the couple to truly find happiness in their upcoming marriage, it only seems appropriate for one of the families to bend to the other’s standards to insure the happiness of their children. But which family finally realizes a need for a shift in priorities is quite unexpected.

Even amidst the greatest financial crisis in American history to that point in time, the Vanderhof family enjoys the moments with each other rather than chasing after wealth. After all, as Grandpa states to Mr. Kirby, Alice’s father, “You’ve got all the money you need. You can’t take it with you . . . Don’t you think there ought to be something more, Mr. Kirby?” The play sparks the minds of theater patrons to explore this idea of what the “more” may be and asks if this generation is missing out. Since this “more” has slowly but surely once again become materialistic, it becomes much easier to blame a weakened economy, a war, or politicians for the unhappiness befalling millions.

This season, “You Can’t Take It With You” and “The Music Man” boast as the country’s most popular productions. Director George McGee believes this is because both describe a simpler time where smaller houses and cutting back were necessary for survival; he explains that today is “the closest we’ve come to the Great Depression.”

But even at this, McGee also believes the play offers a sense of hope. He praises the writers, believing Hart and Kaufman offer a comedic aspect to a matter not easily or appropriately laughed off. The New York playwrights know their craft well and in turn pace the script appropriately for strategic plot and diction. As the scenes unfold, so does the message, portraying the need for simplicity and understanding of nothingness. Above all, McGee believes the play instills a sense of hope, reassuring the audience that life is not about having the biggest bank account. “For the last 20 years”, he explains, “We’ve been collecting as many toys as possible. But these toys don’t mean happiness. It’s learning to enjoy other’s company as a simple joy of life.”

The first weekend of the show is Oct. 30-Nov. 1 followed by four more dates – Nov. 5, 6, 7, and 8 – all in the Ruth Pearce Wilson Lab Theatre. Curtain time is 8 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the campus bookstore, $3 for students and $5 for adults. For reservations, call 502.863.8134. For more information, call 502.863.8162.



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