by Margaret Croyden
Margaret Croyden is a theater reviewer and essayist for the New York Theatre Wire.
The Royal Family
By George S. Kuafman and Edna Ferber
Manhattan Theater Club
"The Royal Family" by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, produced by the Manhattan Theater Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, is the latest addition to the revivals that are death to the contemporary theater. There are at least nine revivals on Broadway and maybe two new plays and a list of musicals that are also revivals.
"The Royal Family" is supposedly based on the famous theatrical clan, the Barrymore family--Ethel, Lionel and John and their offsprings. They were a mighty theater family in the 1930's but today are merely names in theater history books. These days families of this sort are usually based in Hollywood fostering the usual commercial vulgarity. But today we are stuck with phony romantic images of what it must be to be famous, and so celebrated, so rich, and so much in demand that the public either adored them, chased them, hated them, or imitated them. I suppose we have hadour usual types today as well: the early Hollywood stars--Clark Gable. Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and you know who else. Today that kind of real royalty is gone, replaced by instant celebrity, sexual Madonnas and crazy Paris Hiltons.
"The Royal Family" is a romantic play; their comings and goings were simple; their problems dealt with what play they should do next, or who the young ingenue should marry, or what contract they should sign, or how to avoid the press who were parked at their door every minute of the day. After a while their problems become tedious, silly, and repetitive; the central core of the play is frankly uninteresting, the characters are not real, and the entire show is kitsch. Of course it is comedy, so I suppose anything goes.
Everyone one is talking about the legendary Rosemary Harris in the central role of the senior dowager, but I felt her performance was bland, full of knowing smiles, studied indifference to the antics around her, and sometimes even boring. Reg Rogers playing Tony Cavendish, the bad boy of the Family (based on the legendary John Barrymore who created the most publicity for the family ) was the most energetic and original in the cast. Jan Maxwell (Julie Cavendish the second generation based on Ethel Barrymore) was given to screaming, over acting, and cliches.
The best thing about this production is the set and costumes. Lavish in details, with a sprawling staircase, many arches, endless details of a wealthy artistic family, the scenic designer John Lee Beatty and costumer Catherine Zuber are the real stars of this production.
Dough Hughes, one of our best directors keeps the plot going, but cannot overcome the old fashioned aspects even though he tries to disguise it as a comedy of manners. Too much overacting and posturing for comedy of manners. No subtlety here.
But catch it just for the scenery and costumes; they are spectacular.
Margaret Croyden is the author of "Conversations with Peter Brook," (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) soon to be reprinted by Theater Communications Group.
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