by Rita Charleston
The original production premiered on Broadway in 1936 and the following year won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. And now through Jan. 28, Moss Hart and George S. Kauffman’s comedy, “You Can’t Take It With You,” continues at Allens Lane Art Center, 601 West Allens Lane in West Mt. Airy.
Directed by Noel Hanley, the play is a madcap comedy that reinforces the idea that you can only live life to the fullest by doing whatever makes you truly happy. Grandpa Vanderhof and his wacky family, the Sycamores, have been happily living their lives in his house for many years. But when practical young Alice becomes engaged to her company’s vice president Tony Kirby, the clan must straighten up to meet the new in-laws. Disaster ensues, despite the best laid plans.
Grandpa, played by Richard S. Lee, is an eccentric, happy old 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 they took it from him. Once a very successful businessman, he left his job 35 years before for no other reason than just to relax. Today he lives his life by the philosophy of not doing anything unless you truly enjoy doing it.
Lee says in some ways, he and Grandpa aren’t too different from each other. “I left the ad agency I worked at for many years, mainly working on an account for Ford Motor Company. But I left when at age 68 I was considered ‘too old.’ But I continue to do marketing and advertising on my own. Grandpa collects many things, and I spend time collecting miniature cars. I also enjoy reading, performing, play-reading with a group that meets in the Stagecrafters co-op, and in general doing anything that makes me happy.”
And today, at the age of 90, he certainly deserves to do just that. Born in Germantown, moving with his family to Springhouse and now living in Flourtown, Lee has had a checkered career, even though he says initially his career goals were rather uncertain. He says, “I always admired my friends who seemed to know what careers they wanted to pursue and indeed did so. On the other hand, I did not.”
But he did have a taste for acting, having done some shows at Springfield High School and later at the College of William and Mary, where he majored in English and minored in theater. “While in college I appeared in ‘Macbeth’ and helped write the student musical comedy, ‘Heaven Help Us.’ I enjoyed it all, but when I graduated I vowed I would not go into the theater. Actually, my stomach made the decision for me. I liked to eat!”
So advertising became a way of life for Lee, in addition to writing 21 career how-to books with his late wife, Mary (Missy). “We also wrote several columns for the Local, including a restaurant column called ’15 for Dinner’ way back in the ’70s, and another column called ‘The Fact of Life,’ which was about anything that tickled us or what we felt would be of interest to readers. We had a great time doing it all.”
Lee, the father of three, says he also has a great time performing, if and when a part opens up for him. Over the years, he has appeared at several local theaters and looks forward to performing in many more if at all possible. “I love acting, but I realize there are few parts for old geezers. There aren’t many of us left.”
So today, Lee is having a lot of fun playing Grandpa. He hopes there will be more such roles in his future. “You know,” he concluded, “I’ve done lots of things in my life, so I don’t have much of a bucket list left. Just waking up everyday makes me happy!”
Regarding ticket information for “You Can’t Take It With You,” call 215-248-0546 or visit www.allenslane.org