It’s the difference between passion and love.
The Vanderhof home is a haven for individualists, eccentric more than rugged, chasing assorted muses, oblivious to judgment or expectation. The rooms run riot with dance rehearsals, printing presses, wild animals and small explosives.
But then Alice, the youngest member of this anarchic clan, becomes engaged to the son of a Wall Street executive. Can these two families — the free spirits and the moneyed snobs — ever reconcile?
So begins “You Can’t Take It With You,” the beloved Depression-era comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. WUSTL’s Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences will stage the Pulitzer Prize-winning show Feb. 21 to March 2 in Edison Theatre.
“This is classic screwball comedy,” said director Jeffery Matthews, professor of the practice in drama. “It’s very clever, very funny, things get turned on their heads. But it’s also challenging. There’s a size and potency to the language and its rhythms.
“The story is rooted in that period, but there’s something timeless about its themes and questions,” Matthews added.
“What do you really need to be happy?”
‘You Can’t Take It With You’
The answer, for Kaufman and Hart, is not very much.
“Alice’s grandfather collects snakes, and her father manufactures illegal fireworks,” Matthews said. “Her mother writes plays because someone mistakenly delivered a typewriter. Her sister makes candy, but her real passion is dance. She’s terrible at it, but it gives her pleasure.
“Nobody is good at what they do,” Matthews continued. “There’s no ‘practice makes perfect.’ They are pure amateurs, completely artless — but they’re also very happy.”
Yet the outside world encroaches, in the form of Tony Kirby, Alice’s fiance. Though Tony is quite at home amidst the chaos, Alice worries that his parents — finance titan Anthony Kirby and grim, prim Miriam — will be less accepting.
“The plan is to invite them over for dinner,” Matthews said. But Tony is optimistic and “purposefully brings them on the wrong night, hoping that they’ll get to know the real family.”
Hijinks, as they say, ensue. Meanwhile, federal agents begin to circle, variously concerned with back taxes and packages of candy that somehow — completely innocently! — have been wrapped in the words of Leon Trotsky.
“They’re seen as communists, as dangerous,” Matthews said. “’Normal’ people can’t understand them at all. But they’re like children, just playing in this magical jewel box of a house, thumbing their noses, following their passions.
“They eat cornflakes for dinner and go happily on their way.”