Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Review: "The Royal Family"

Although it's just closed, I thought I was would post a short review of the Manhattan Theater Club's delightful recent production of "The Royal Family." I saw it late last week anda it was a great deal of fun.

Set in the 1920s, it centers on a famous acting family called the Cavendishes who are not-too-loosely-based on the Barrymore clan (John, Ethel, Lionel, Diana -- and Drew) who were famous for their drinking, carousing, and brilliant acting. There really isn't one plot but several concentrating on the matriarch of the family (played by the amazing Rosemary Harris) whose daughter has become a great actress (the hilarious Jan Maxwell) and whose granddaughter is struggling between wanting to be an actress and having a normal life. Into the mix are their creepy friends (humanized by the funny John Glover and Ana Gasteyer) and their overly loyal lawyer played by the wonderful Tony Roberts. In addition, an insane (literally) son hides out with the family, having escaped Hollywood after having an affair with his director's girlfriend and then punching him out. Hilarity ensues but also does a certain pathos -- the things people sacrifice for art, how love and ambition collide, how one can never escape one's family no matter how hard one tries.

You might call "The Royal Family" classic American theater at its finest. The play was originally produced in 1928 and was written by the legendary George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Kaufman wrote many plays and would go on, in 1936, to co-write (and win a Pulitzer Prize for) "You Can't Take It With You" with Moss Hart. Ferber is most famous for writing novels including Giant. In this production the performances were first-rate the set -- the living room of a duplex apartment in the East 50's -- was absolutely stunning. Although it has now closed, I greatly enjoyed "The Royal Family" and am glad I was able to see this rarely seen classic.

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