Kolenkhov: How can you relax in times like these?
Grandpa: If they’d just relax, there wouldn’t be times like these.
Things are getting pretty exciting the rehearsal room this Labor Day weekend, as we barrel towards Sunday’s run-through of You Can’t Take It With You. Every day on the second floor at 75 Woodbury – and, indeed, in the Sycamore household – plays are written, ballet steps are practiced, taxes are evaded, hearts are won. And during every rehearsal, I find myself thinking about the genius of Moss Hart and George Kaufman. They created a world which, on first glance, feels so very distant from ours – the Sycamore house is place where the unexpected almost always happens, and there’s a silver lining to every cloud. Yet the longer we spend in their world, the more we see the similarities it has with our own.
The play takes place in 1936 – 7 years into the Great Depression. The stock market was unpredictable, unemployment was very high, farmers were troubled by adverse weather conditions, countries all over the world were experiencing turmoil, and WWII was not too far off. And yet, life went on – buildings were built, sports were played by well-paid athletes, movies and plays were made and attended, ideas were debated and politicians were elected… Sound familiar?
So, when Grandpa suggests to Russian ballet teacher Boris Kolenkhov that we wouldn’t have the difficulties we face if we’d only relax, it actually feels like sage advice from someone who’s been through it all before. Maybe we all need to be a little bit more like the Sycamores, and follow our passions. Or, as Kaufman wrote to his wife after the first draft of the play was written, “the way to live and be happy is just to go ahead and live, and not pay attention to the world.” Now, I wouldn’t want to imply that I’ve got any plans to start designing fireworks displays like Mr. Sycamore, so don’t anticipate a tent full of skyrockets when I staff Geva’s booth at the Clothesline Festival next weekend! However, I do have a pair of tap shoes in my closet that just might find their way back out into the light of day…