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A Muslim ‘Re-mix’ of comedy

You can’t take it with you? Perhaps.

But Cornerstone Theater is betting that you can take the 1936 comedy “You Can’t Take It With You” into a very different milieu from the one imagined by playwrights George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart -- and Chris Hart, son of Moss, has given his blessing.

“You Can’t Take It With You (hel-Yome): An American Muslim Re-mix” is the title of the Cornerstone adaptation, to be produced in October as part of the company’s long-running examination of faith-based communities. The Arabic “hel-Yome” is translated as “this day.”

Adapter Peter Howard’s script turns the free-thinking New York family of the original into a contemporary Arab American and Muslim family living in a big Victorian house near USC in Los Angeles. The young woman who wants to be a ballerina in the original now wants to be a hip-hop artist, but she still wears her head scarf around the house. The play’s stuffier second family will be of another ethnicity, although also Muslim.

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Chris Hart, a director who often stages more traditional revivals of his father’s work in the Southland, said Howard’s script “maintains the integrity, as well as a lot of the actual writing” of the original. “It’s good to have a play contemporized in a way that can be meaningful to a local community.”

It didn’t hurt that Hart directed a production called “Muslim American” for Enrichment Works, a group that takes theater to schools. Hart said the Kaufman interests in the play, represented by Kaufman’s daughter Anne Kaufman Schneider, had authorized him to pass judgment on the Cornerstone request to adapt the play because of his local ties.

Playwright Howard, who is not Muslim but is drawing on a team of Muslim advisors, hopes the play will be produced in a venue with a Muslim affiliation, but the site has not been determined. The play will definitely close by Oct. 26, before Ramadan begins.

-- Don Shirley

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