'Royal Family' shines light on theater life

KU to stage comedy beginning Friday

In the roaring 20s, before Hollywood celebrities became cultural icons, the spotlight shined on the flamboyant on- and off-stage antics of families in American theater.

University Theatre's production of "The Royal Family," a humorous celebration of life and the theater, will open next weekend at Kansas University.

The play follows the lives of the talented and celebrated Cavendish clan, a fabled family of actors who dominate Broadway theater and "whose off-stage histrionics frequently rival their on-stage performances," said Jack B. Wright, director of the production and KU professor of theatre and film.

Written and premiered in 1927, the play was intended as a fond spoof of theater families. It is loosely based on the real Barrymore family -- the controversial stage family of the era.

As one of six collaborations between George S. Kaufman (the leading author of comedies in American theater for 35 years) and Edna Ferber (the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist), the play is really "a love letter to the American theater," Wright said. "It's a Valentine and celebration to all artists in society."

"It celebrates the joys of theater combined with the realistic choices one has to make in life's ups and downs," he said.

In the lives of a family whose love for the theater is so great, personal and professional lives become twisted and torn. Characters such as Julie and Gwen Cavendish, who were born into the theater world, struggle to compromise between love and art, husband and theater, family and fame.

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Mike Yoder/Journal-World Photo

Gail Trotter, left, a cutter/draper for University Theatre at Kansas University, fits a costume for the play "The Royal Family" on Wichita senior Kelly Mengelkoch. The play opens Friday at Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall.

"It is a love story on many different levels: one of the theater and family and love relationships," said Kelly Mengelkoch, a Wichita senior who plays the role of Kitty Dean, a woman past her prime who marries into the Cavendish family and is fighting to be appreciated as an equal talent. "It also questions whether the characters are more devoted to their stage life or their real life."

The characters show "that life in the theater is experienced at a 'pitch that is near madness,'" Wright said. "The traditions of the theater are ingrained in the blood of actors."

Mengelkoch, a KU theater major, is familiar with the hectic life of acting.

"The neatest thing about the play is that it lets people who aren't inclined to performing see why we love and celebrate the theater with our lives," she said. "It shows why and how we get so caught up in what we do as performers."




-- Monica White is a Kansas University journalism student.





What: "The Royal Family."When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 1 and March 6-8; 2:30 p.m. March 2.Where: Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall at Kansas University.Tickets: $10 students, $14 public, $13 seniors.

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