Classic Play Celebrates Key American Family Value: Individualism
Snakes, illegal fireworks, and impulsive wrestling are just a few of the Sycamore family's eccentric passions in Moss Hart's and George S. Kaufman's Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy You Can't Take It With You, to be presented by the UR International Theatre Program in Todd Theatre on the University of Rochester's River Campus. Kicking off the Theatre Program's 19th season, this fresh approach to the classic play that celebrates the rich wonders of American individualism opens on Oct. 16 and runs for nine performances, including two matinees, through Oct. 25.
"It is distinctly American," notes Susanna Gellert, director of You Can't Take it With You, which made its Broadway debut in 1936. "The show and this production are about the individualism that drives us, about the unique will of American individualism that keeps us torn between being our own person and fitting in with the crowd."
Under Gellert's creative direction, the audience is brought into a college recreation room, complete with vending machines, pizza dinners, and a garage band for a "reenactment" of what, in the original play, took place in the Sycamores' living room. There the players, Gellert says, all college students, "tell the story" of the Sycamore family as they happily absorb themselves in their unique hobbies and passions, free of judgment, whether playwriting, dancing, or snake collecting. "The idea is to completely celebrate individualism by giving the actors themselves the opportunity to bring as much of their uniqueness as possible to the table," says Gellert, who has directed at numerous universities across the country, including the Asolo Conservatory at Florida State University, New York University, and the Yale School of Drama.
Consistent with the original production of the play, as well as Frank Capra's Academy Award-winning film adaptation in 1938, the Sycamores happily refuse to conform to the grim realities of the exterior world, including neglecting to pay income tax for 24 years. Only the youngest daughter, Alice, has evaded this seemingly bizarre oblivion, and engages in the outside world. When she brings her fiancé and his discontented Wall Street banker parents home to dinner, the families clash catastrophically, bringing to life questions of individualism versus conformity, and what constitutes normalcy.
These are timeless dilemmas, according to Gellert. "Even though Kaufman and Hart wrote the play in 1936, it feels that it is very much a product of our own times," says Gellert, who has also directed for SoHo Think Tank's Ice Factory '07 at the Ohio Theater, Target Margin Theater's Laboratory, and for the American Living Room series at HERE. "They might as well have written it yesterday."
From 1930 to 1940 George Kaufman and Moss Hart famously collaborated on seven plays that remain iconic American comedies, including The Man Who Came To Dinner, Once In a Lifetime, and Merrily We Roll Along. Kaufman also collaborated on musicals with Richard Rodgers, and George and Ira Gershwin, including Of Thee I Sing—the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize.
Recently awarded the University of Rochester's Goergen Award for Curricular Achievement in Undergraduate Education, the International Theatre Program draws on quality professionals from across the country for its productions. Set designer Lee Savage has credits that include productions at the NYC Fringe Festival, Berkshire Theatre Festival, and The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Costume designs are by Emily Rebholz, who has designed for many New York City theatre companies, including the renowned Roundabout Theatre and The Actor's Playhouse. Lighting designer Scott Bollman's credits include productions at the the Lincoln Center Festival. Sound designer Josh Schmidt recently designed the award winning off-Broadway musical The Adding Machine.
You Can't Take It With You will run from Oct. 16 through Oct. 18, and Oct. 22 to Oct. 25 at 8 p.m., with matinees on Oct. 18 and 19 at 3 p.m. Tickets for You Can't Take It With You are $6 (UR students), $8 (for UR faculty, staff, alumni, and for seniors), and $10 (general public). Tickets may be reserved online at www.rochester.edu/theatre or over the phone by calling (585) 275- 4088.