Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 572

On its opening night in December of 1936, You Can't Take It with You became an instant commercial hit. Since then, the play's popularity has never waned; it has been successfully staged by theaters of all sizes for over six decades. Yet even while praising the skill with which Kaufman and Hart constructed their clever comedy, critics have generally categorized the play as an escapist farce, enjoyable yet lacking any significant content. When the play won the Pulitzer Prize in 1936, some questioned the choice, saying judges played it safe, choosing a popular work rather than a more controversial drama with greater depth and artistic merit.

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In his New York Times review, Brooks Atkinson described You Can't Take It with You, as "a spontaneous piece of hilarity" composed with "a dash of affection to season the humor" by two writers with "a knack for extravagances of word and episode and an eye for hilarious incongruities." Most other reviews of the first production were equally positive, though some expressed surprise that the play was less satirical than Kaufman's earlier works. But perhaps because its humor was gentle and its message palatable, You Can't Take It with You appealed to audiences all across the country and touring companies shared the success of the Broadway production. The strong ticket sales were all the more remarkable considering the tough economic conditions of the Great Depression—and speak volumes of the play's appeal as escapist fare.

Over the years, critics' comments regarding You Can't Take It with You have been remarkably consistent. Frank Hurburt O'Hara, in his 1939 collection of essays Today in American Drama, praised Kaufman and Hart for creating a play that despite being "hilariously preposterous" still manages to be "more persuasive to audiences than most farces." Almost thirty years later, Richard Mason, in a 1967 Theater Annual article, would still admire the imagination and warmth in this play where "neither satire nor any weighty preoccupation with issues is allowed to get in the way of the comedy ... any metaphorical values possessed by the play are quite overshadowed by its farce exuberance."

Pleasantly escapist, You Can't Take It with You is, as Ethan Mordden wrote in his 1981 book The American Theater , "one hit whose...

(The entire section contains 572 words.)

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