At the Cocoanut Hotel, Polly Potter, the daughter of a rich widow, has become romantically attached to Jamison, the hotel’s clerk. Florida is in the middle of a land boom, but Jamison reveals to Polly that the property around the hotel is too hilly to be developed conventionally. As an aspiring architect, however, he has dreamt up innovative ways to build on the difficult terrain.
Mrs. Potter wants Polly to stop seeing Jamison. She would prefer an alliance with the seemingly respectable Harvey Yates. Meanwhile, Mr. Hammer, the hotel’s proprietor, tries to interest Mrs. Potter in buying “Cocoanut Manor” property near the hotel.
Yates, conniving with an old disreputable chum of his, Penelope Martin, concocts a complicated plan to steal Mrs. Potter’s diamond necklace, which is hidden in her room next to Penelope’s.
That night, various parties enter and exit Penelope and Mrs. Potter’s adjoining suites. Penelope is able to nab the necklace. But Silent Sam, unseen, discovers where she and Harvey plan to hide the purloined treasure.
Hammer enlists Willie to help drive up bids at the Cocoanut Manor auction, but the plan backfires. Also at the auction, Harvey and Jamison bid for the same lot. Jamison prevails. But just then, the theft of Mrs. Potter’s necklace is announced. Mrs. Potter gets her necklace back, but the wrong man is arrested!
Mrs. Potter insists now that Polly become engaged to Harvey. She plans an elaborate engagement party at the hotel—a masquerade ball with a Spanish theme. This smart event becomes the setting where, with any luck, wrongs will be righted and true love will triumph.
In The Cocoanuts, Groucho’s Hammer points out to Chico’s Willie the “levees” along the riverfront. “That’s the Jewish neighborhood,” Willie notes. Hammer replies, “We’ll pass over that.”
As a comedy team, the Marxes tended not to wear their religious identity on their sleeves. “We Marx Brothers never denied our Jewishness,” Groucho once wrote. “We simply didn’t use it. We could have safely fallen back on the Yiddish Theatre, making secure careers for ourselves. But our act was designed from the start to have a broad appeal.”
Nonetheless, the vaudeville routines that the boys played early on were part of a comic tradition that’s been called “relentlessly ethnic.” In one early sketch, a speaking Harpo played an Irish “Patsy Brannigan” character. In a later routine, Groucho portrayed a German “Papa”—whose accent was given a Yiddish twist when World War I made references to German elements unpopular. Eventually, Groucho’s “Papa” became a generic American patriarch. Chico’s clownish Italian was the one major vestige of stereotypical ethnic humor that followed the Marxes to Broadway and Hollywood.
An edited version reprinted from OSF’s 2014 Illuminations, a 64-page guide to the season’s plays. For more information, or to buy the full Illuminations, click here. Members at the Patron level and above and teachers who bring a school groups to OSF receive a free copy of Illuminations.