Freddy Arsenault, Kelli Barrett, Carolyn Stefanie Clay, Rufus Collins, Ana Gasteyer, John Glover, David Greenspan, Rosemary Harris, Jan Maxwell, Larry Pine, Tony Roberts, Reg Rogers, Henny Russell
The Royal Family, a witty 1927 farce by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, is currently enjoying a wonderful run at the Samuel Friedman Theatre. The show has everything it needs to transport the audience back in time to when stars were bigger than life, focusing on the Cavendish Clan, a family of Thespians (with a capital T), which, at the time, was a very obvious reference to the Barrymore family, famous on stage and screen.
The Cavendishes interact with one another with the same intensity and emotional depth that they do on-stage which is to say broadly and loudly, but not deeply. The play takes the audience back to the 1920 and 30s, when phones were a bother, but one that could still be ignored in the other room and when the tabloids were things to be avoided, not outlets to be courted. In keeping with the aforementioned, this revival of The Royal Family has everything going for it.
A top-rate cast, headed by Rosemary Harris as matriarch Fanny Cavendish, embody the Cavendish clan. Fanny isnt ready to give up her roles on the stage for the role of head-of-household just yet, and so the responsibilities of keeping the family moving forward fall to her daughter Julie, played expertly by Jan Maxwell. Julie is the breadwinner of the family, the center still holding them together without acknowledgement, as well as a flighty, fragile, and tough star in her own right. Jan Maxwell plays the role to the hilt, moving between self-doubt and worry within the family and toughness when ready to go on stage with ease.
Reg Rogers, as the roguish brother Tony, unselfconsciously chews scenery and pulls the focus to him whenever he is on stage. The writers’ scattered use of the character brings a whirling dervish of action through the stage just long enough to shake up the family like a well-made martini and yet not too long to make his presence insufferable.
Director Doug Hughes pulls great performances from all his actors and keeps the action moving and without losing the focus on the three generations of Cavendish women (Kelli Barrett plays Gwen, daughter of Julie and granddaughter of Fanny) and their choices between life on the stage and life off-stage. Special note must go to the scenic design by John Lee Beatty, who brings the Cavendishs over-the-top, opulent townhouse to life.
As wonderful as the show is, it is at times a bit remote. This isnt the fault of the actors or director, who together have moved the story to relevance as much as possible while still keeping all the humor, but the story is dated. It is a great play to watch but hard to invest in emotionally for much of the audience. At three acts, the play takes a little longer to to perform than some audiences might prefer. These, however, are pretty minor annoyances compared to watching a cast that is at the top of its game.