The Pulitzer-Prize-Winning Comedy by Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman
Grandpa Vanderhof and his wacky family, the Sycamores, have been happily living their zany lives in his house by Columbia University in New York for many years. This family (and their friends) are a madcap group of eccentrics, marching to the beat of their own drum, with pride and joy. Their hobbies include collecting snakes, building fireworks in the basement, writing a myriad of plays that never get published, and taking ballet lessons. Things like stress, jobs, and paying taxes to the government are for other people, not for them! But when practical young Alice Sycamore becomes engaged to her company’s Vice President Tony Kirby, the Vanderhof/Sycamore clan must straighten up to meet the new in-laws. Disaster ensues when the Kirbys arrive at the wrong time and, despite the best laid plans, see Alice’s family in all of its crazy glory. The evening ends with everyone in the house getting arrested, and Alice ending the engagement. It isn’t until Grandpa’s wise speech to Mr. Kirby about the importance of living life to the fullest that the two families find a way to accept each other, and love conquers all. You Can’t Take It With You is a madcap, idealistic comedy that reinforces the idea that you can only live life to the fullest by doing whatever makes you happy.
Read the script HERE.
You Can’t take It With You Characters (and stage ages) – The Women (7 Roles)
Penelope Sycamore (Early/Mid 50s) – Lead
Usually goes by Penny. She is the mother of Essie and Alice, wife of Paul, and daughter of Martin. A loving and caring mother and wife, Penny is as eccentric as the other members of her family. Penny was an enthusiastic painter but gave up this hobby for writing when a typewriter was delivered to the house by mistake eight years earlier. Charmingly blunt, she causes some embarrassment during the Kirbys’ visit, first by calling Mrs. Kirby’s beloved spirtualism “a fake,” and then by proposing a word association game and asking what everyone associates with the words “sex,” “bathroom,” and “lust.” Penny’s enjoyment of life and direct speech are in marked contrast to Mrs. Kirby’s seeming discontent and reserved acceptance of social conventions.
Essie Carmichael (Mid-20s – early 30s) – Featured
Wife of Ed, daughter of Penny and Paul Sycamore, Granddaughter of Martin, sister of Alice. She is childish. As a hobby she makes candy that Ed sells. Essie dreams of being a ballerina. She has spent 8 years studying with Boris Kolenkhov, but is a terrible dancer. She dances her way through the play, improvising steps to her husband Ed’s xylophone music. Like the other Sycamores, Essie is both happily absorbed in tasks which amuse her and wholly undisturbed by the eccentricities of her family.
Rheba (Ageless) – Supporting
The maid and cook to the Sycamore family. She is treated almost like a part of the family. She is dating Donald. In the words of Mrs. Sycamore, “The two of them are really cute together”
Alice Sycamore (Early to Mid 20s) – Featured
Alice Sycamore is Penny and Paul’s attractive younger daughter (Granddaughter of Martin, sister of Essie). The twenty−two−year−old Alice has, according to the stage directions, “escaped the tinge of mild insanity” that pervades her relatives, but her “devotion and love for them are plainly apparent. She falls in love with Tony Kirby. She works for Kirby and company, and is rather embarrassed by the eccentricities of her family when she has Tony and his parents at her house.
Gay Wellington (most likely played over 40) – Cameo/Supporting
Described in the stage directions as “an actress, nymphomaniac, and a terrible souse,” comes to the Sycamore house to discuss a script with Penny but then passes out on the couch. She occasionally awakens, usually just in time to contribute to the chaos that erupts following the Kirbys’ unexpected visit.
Miriam Kirby (Mid 50s – Early 60s) – Supporting
Wife of Mr. Kirby, mother of Tony. She is an extremely prim and proper woman the conservative female equivelent of her businessman husband. She, too, is shocked by the unconventional Vanderhof−Sycamores. Her hobby is spiritualism and she is affronted when Penny says spiritualism is “a fake”. She seems to reveal she is dissatisfied with her marriage when in a word game she associates “honeymoon” with “dull” and almost admits that Mr. Kirby talks about Wall Street even during sex.
The Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (mid 40s – mid 50s) – Supporting
She was one of the Grand Duchesses of Russia before the Revolution. Since then she has been forced to flee to America where she has found work as a waitress in Childs Restaurant. The rest of her family has had a similar fate, such as her Uncle Sergei, the Grand Duke, who is now an elevator man. She loves to cook.
You Can’t take It With You Characters (and stage age) – The Men (9 Roles)
Grandpa – Martin Vanderhof (Early/Mid 70s) – Lead
Father of Penny, Grandfather to Alice and Essie. Head of the household. He is an eccentric but wise and happy older man who has never paid his income tax because he doesn’t believe in it, as he feels that the government wouldn’t know what to do with the money if he paid. One day thirty−five years ago he gave up his successful business career, since, as he explains to Mr. Kolenkhov, it struck him that he “wasn’t having any fun,” So he “just relaxed” and has “been a happy man ever since.” He now has “time enough for everything” and, as he tells Mr. Kirby, he no longer has “six hours of things I have to do every day before I get one hour to do what I like in.” He goes to circuses, commencements, throws darts, and collects stamps. He provides the philosophical center of the play, explaining the folly of seeking material wealth at the expense of personal fulfillment, and asking only, as he says while saying grace before dinner, that their family be allowed “to go along and be happy in [their] own sort of way.”
Paul Sycamore (Late 50s – Early 60s) – Supporting
Father of Essie and Alice, husband of Penny, Son-in-law of Martin. He is a tinkerer who makes fireworks the basement with the help of his assistant Mr. De Pinna. Quiet, charming, and mild−mannered, he never loses his composure, even when the fireworks he makes in the basement unexpectedly explode. Like his wife and father−in−law, Paul possesses what the stage directions call “a kind of youthful air.”
Mr. De Pinna (“Middle Aged”) – Supporting
Described in the stage directions as a “bald−headed little man with a serious manner,” the middle−aged Mr. De Pinna arrived at the Vanderhof residence eight years ago to deliver ice and ended up moving in. He shows how open and accepting the Vanderhof−Sycamore family can be: everyone is obviously welcome in this house. Mr. De Pinna has clearly taken to this family’s way of life. He helps Paul make firecrackers, poses in Roman costume for Penny’s painting of a discus thrower, and remains undisturbed by the chaotic household.
Ed Carmichael (Age 28-35 +/-) – Supporting
Stage directions describe him as a “nondescript young man” in his thirties. Loyal and devoted husband of Essie, son-in-law of Paul and Penny. He is a xylophone player, and distributes Essie’s candies. Ed is an amateur printer who prints anything that sounds good to him such as some of the writings of the revolutionary Russian Communist Leon Trotsky: “God Is the State; the State is God.” He also prints up dinner menus for his family. He is mistakenly a person of interest to the FBI who fancies him an insurrectionist attempting to undermine the United States government.
Donald (Ageless) – Supporting
Boyfriend to Rheba, who serves as volunteer handyman and errand runner for the Sycamores. He is on welfare.
Wilbur C. Henderson (40 – 60) – Cameo/Supporting
An employee of the IRS He comes to collect the tax money owed by Grandpa, and can’t understand why the latter won’t pay income tax.
Tony Kirby (Mid/Late 20s) – Featured
The stage directions tell us he is a “very nice young man” who has recently attended Yale and Cambridge. He has fallen in love with Alice Sycamore and wants to marry her. Tony is a Vice President of Kirby & Co., his father’s business. He purposely brings his parents to the Vanderhof−Sycamore house on the wrong night because, as he says to his father, “I wanted you to see a real family as they really were A family that loved and understood each other.” Determined to do something that he wants to do, Tony rejects his father’s business and embraces the Vanderhofs philosophy of seeking happiness over wealth.
Boris Kolenkhov (mid 40s – mid 50s) – Supporting
A Russia who escaped to America shortly before the Russian Revolution. He is very concerned with world politics, and the deterioration of his homeland. He is the ballet instructor of Essie, aware that she is untalented at dancing, and ever the opportunist, he keeps working with her, conveniently, at meal times. He is opinionated and often loudly declares that something “stinks”! Has wrestling match with Mr. Kirby.
Anthony P. Kirby (Mid 50s – Early 60s) – Large Supporting
Husband of Mrs. Kirby, father of Tony. He is a very proper man who is president of Kirby and Co… a successful Wall Street businessman…and secretly despises his job. He is a traditional authority figure who represents the conventional worldview the Vanderhof−Sycamores reject. Conservative and repressed, he has perpetual indigestion and tells his wife he thinks “lust is not a human emotion.” He is initially shocked by Alice’s family and says Grandpa Vanderhof s idea of doing only what makes you happy is a “a very dangerous philosophy … it’s un−American.” His hobby is raising expensive orchids. He is also a member of the Harvard Society, the Union Club, the National Geographic Society, and the Racquet Club. He lives life “the right way” and is miserable for it. He undergoes the most major transformation in the play.