As Irving Berlin wrote, “There’s no people like show people,” and “The Royal Family” at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum proves just that. “The Royal Family” provides a glimpse into the lives of the famous family of actors the Cavendishes. Written by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, the Cavendish family was written as a parody of the real life actor family the Barrymores, with the womanizer Tony Cavendish representing John Barrymore and the Broadway diva Julie Cavendish representing Ethel Barrymore. Like a good parody of actors should, this one contains over the top, melodramatic, self-absorbed characters, and this production is brilliantly cast highlighting the Geer family of actresses as well as several Theatricum regulars.
This play examines the sacrifices made to live the life on an actor, the cost of giving it up and of course that inextricable pull that the stage has to lure you back, that only those who have walked the boards themselves can truly appreciate. The rustic outdoor stage is beautifully transformed into the grand salon of an upscale New York apartment. The sheer size of which adds to the chaos and comings and goings of the large cast. At times director Susan Angelo attains an almost “Noises Off” cacophony of activity that is balanced brilliantly with the quieter, smaller moments. With all of the melodramatic reactions – Willow Geer as Gwen Cavendish has a brilliant moment when she exclaims to her beau, with a hand flourish no less, “But I’m an actress!” – that abound throughout, the most dramatic moment of the play is met with absolute silence and cuts straight to the heart of the matter.
Melora Marshall as Julie Cavendish manages to be genuine, heartfelt and self-absorbed all at the same time, and her grand entrance can’t be beat. That is until Tony Cavendish, played by Aaron Hendry, enters in a tornado of self-important bravado and sweeps the entire household up in his energy and enthusiasm. Both deliver memorable performances, but the real star of the show is Ellen Geer as the matriarch Fanny Cavendish. Her portrayal of this once prolific actress who is now on the declining slope of failing health is something to behold. She delivers great matter-of-fact zingers while wrangling her nutty family one moment, then lets her frailty show through the next only to come back fighting and stand on her own two feet. She is the walking, talking embodiment of what the Cavendish family stands for.
The rest of the cast is rounded out with a talented cadre of actors with Alan Blumenfeld as Oscar Wolfe the Cavendish’s manager providing the buoy to which the pandemonium can attach itself. “The Royal Family” is a fast-paced romp that will put a smile on your face with its poignant portrayal of what it means to be family.
*Coverage provided for the Culver City News