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Rosemary Harris Stars in Manhattan Theatre Club's "The Royal Family"

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Manhattan Theatre Club
The Royal Family
(MTC Show Website)
By George S. Kaufman & Edna Ferber

Lynn Meadow, Artistic Director
Barry Grove, Exec. Producer

Directed by Doug Hughes

At the
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street

Ana Gasteyer, John Glover, Rosemary Harris,
Jan Maxwell, Larry Pine, Anthony Newfield,
Reg Rogers, and Acting Ensemble

Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Darron L. West
Original Music: Maury Yeston
Hair & Wig Design: Tom Watson
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Animals: William Berloni
Production Stage Manager: Rick Steiger
Casting: David Caparelliotis
General Manager: Florie Seery
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Artistic Director: Mandy Greenfield
Director of Artistic Development: Jerry Patch
Director of Marketing: Debra Waxman-Pilla
Director of Development: Jill Turner Lloyd
Production Manager: Kurt Gardner
Director of Casting: Nancy Piccione

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 11, 2009

The show must go on, and so must the Cavendishes, in this 1927 George S. Kaufman-Edna Ferber play, a take-off on the Barrymores. Set in one of the most sumptuous sets, by John Lee Beatty, and the cast adorned in equally sumptuous 1920’s costumes, thanks to Catherine Zuber, I should have been drawn in immediately and mesmerized by the madcap antics of this egomaniacal, theatrical brood, but, alas, Doug Hughes’ direction of this Broadway show about Broadway included shrill skirmishes, near violent swordplay, and disconnected, sputtering monologues, many of which were almost incomprehensible. By Act II, the cast exuded more chemistry and comfort, but this viewer’s experience was more akin to watching a film than attending the theatre. Something was amiss. Unfortunately, Tony Roberts, one of the featured actors, was out ill again, after an onstage seizure in a recent preview, and Oscar Wolfe, the Cavendishes Manager, was played by Anthony Newfield, with a bit of restraint.

Rosemary Harris, however, the Cavendish matriarch, Fanny, an actress past her prime, who begs Oscar for one last national tour, is the glue of the family and the glue of this show. Her stage presence is palpable, with elegant grace, powerful projection, and a winning demeanor. Her three grown children, Kelli Barrett, as Gwen Cavendish, Jan Maxwell, as Julie Cavendish, and Reg Rogers, as Tony Cavendish, all initially vie for center stage, literally and figuratively, and then all attempt to relinquish their theatrical lives, for marital bliss (Gwen and Julie), or Hollywood to European press (Tony). The monologues and dialogues, that get them from precise curtain schedules to dreams of romantic or celebrity escape, should have been the seamless force of this very well written and iconic play, but, instead, characters shouted over one another, often screaming, crying, pouting, or literally jumping over banisters and each other. The ultimate gestalt evoked slapstick and burlesque. I longed for swanky, stylish, aristocratic repartee, to match the sets and costumes and assumed intent of Kaufman and Ferber. Passion does not equal noise.

Ms. Maxwell plays the role that Ms. Harris played in the 1970’s, and I wish I could see that earlier revival now. She must have been marvelous, with eye-catching charm. Ms. Maxwell toned down by Act II, but her grandstanding was not at all grand. Reg Rogers, as well, was far more enticing to watch in Act II, but his impulsive immaturity was abrasive and coarse, when it could have been adorably absurd. Kelli Barrett, as the conflicted young actress, began to draw interest toward the end of Act II, but she was ever elusive, more in movie motif, rather than live theatre. John Glover, as Fanny’s brother, Herbert Dean, an actor aspiring to find a role, presented just the level of class required here, but his character was often overwhelmed by this madding crowd. Larry Pine, as Julie’s longtime suitor, Gilbert Marshall, who offers Julie an estate in Brazil, is well cast, but again, barely breaks through the mayhem. Freddy Arsenault, as Perry Stewart, Gwen’s fiancé, is suitably bland as the man who has little to offer in the realm of adventure or pizzazz. Perry is this play’s Paris, if Gwen were Juliet and Broadway were Romeo. David Greenspan, as Jo, the family’s butler, and Henny Russell, as Miss Peake, the family’s maid, are under-staged, with both exuding a level of class that matches their milieu. Also under-staged was Ana Gasteyer, as Kitty Dean, Herbert’s ditsy wife, a great character actor. See The Royal Family for Rosemary Harris’ outstanding performance.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at