GUEST COLUMNIST: Murray Ross on 'You Can't Take It With You'
Playwright: George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Director: Geoffrey Kent
Cast: Louis Schaefer, Jamie Ann Romero, Gabriella Cavallero, and Sean Scrutchins
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 23
Where: Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle
Tickets: $35; $15 children under 16; (719) 255-3232, theatreworkscs.org
Something else: Children under 5 years old will not be admitted)
One other thing: Opening weekend features four special events. Go to theatreworkscs.org for details.
Nearly everyone has heard of the great American playwrights: Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.
Not so many people know George S. Kaufman, which is surprising, considering that he dominated American theater during the middle of the last century. For 37 straight years (1921-58), there was a play on Broadway either written or directed by Kaufman, a record which will almost certainly never be broken.
The plays he directed were important and legendary (“Guys and Dolls,” “Of Mice and Men,” “The Front Page”), and the plays he wrote have proved to be our most enduring comedies (“Merrily We Roll Along,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and “You Can’t Take It With You” — all with Moss Hart).
The Pulitzer Prize winner “You Can’t Take it With You” opens at TheatreWorks on Thursday, Dec. 6 and runs through Dec. 23.
Kaufman was a vivid personality. He was not handsome in a conventional sense, but was well known as a ladies man: After a movie star’s diary recounting some intimate moments showed up in print, Kaufman was named “Public Lover Number One.” Yet, he, along with his fabulous contemporaries Robert Benchley, James Thurber, S. J.Perelman, Ring Lardner and Dorothy Parker, are no longer household names.
There are reasons for this. It’s partly because Kaufman (along with the others I have named) was a genius of comedy, and comedy has a reputation for being less important and more dated than tragedy.
But there’s more to it. Kaufman was the master of Broadway, but his mastery was always achieved through collaboration. He only wrote one play on his own. The rest (including two Pulitzer Prize winners) were co-authored with contemporaries like George and Ira Gershwin, the Marx Brothers, Edna Ferber, Morrie Ryskind and Hart. Groucho Marx called him “my personal god.” He was also the ultimate “theater doctor:” A rigorous technician and craftsman, he was the guy you could count on to stay up late to cut, rewrite, and reshape the molten mess of drama into something sharp, firm and satisfying.
“You Can’t Take It With You,” which TheatreWorks is producing for the holidays, was written in a few weeks. Kaufman gave Hart first billing as author, because he believed the one with the idea of the play should come first. And Hart had a great idea: Take a bohemian family living in contented bedlam and invade it with threats from Wall Street and the IRS. Make it end happily.
You feel Kaufman’s touch everywhere: in the abundant wit, the sharp exchanges, the giddy playfulness — all underpinned by a firm and economic dramatic structure. It was funny then, and it’s funny now: The comedy is still of our time.
Murray Ross is founder and artistic director of TheatreWorks.