'Royal Family' a royal success for University Theatre

"We're held together by more than just tables and chairs," declares the matriarch of the Cavendish family during the third act of "The Royal Family," a play that raises issues of personal versus professional life and the continuation of a family legacy.

A veritable love letter to the American theater, "The Royal Family," by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, opened Friday night at Kansas University's Crafton-Preyer Theatre. The three-act play focuses on the Cavendish family, a dynasty of actors and actresses whose lives are centered on the theater. The majority of the action takes place during two hectic days in the Cavendish house in 1927 New York.

Tony Cavendish (Matthew G. Simon) has returned from Hollywood, running from a scandal. Uncle Herbert Dean (Aaron Champion) is pushing manager Oscar Wolfe (Isadore Alexander Wolfson) to produce his new play. Gwen Cavendish (Rita DeLoach), the rising star in the family, is unsure whether to marry or pursue life on the stage. And her mega-star mother Julie Cavendish (Maureen Perry) and grandmother Fanny Cavendish (Betty Laird), the matriarch of the family, are pushing her to carry on the family tradition of life in the theater.

It may sound confusing, but it's not. The cast does an admirable job of creating a family atmosphere, and it's easy to get swept up in the chaos, as lifestyles and loyalties are tested and years of suppressed emotions come forward.

The cast is composed almost entirely of students, many of whom are University Theatre veterans. Betty Laird (as Fanny Cavendish) is the only nonstudent cast member and is acknowledged in the program as a "guest artist." She lends grace, humor and pathos to Fanny, a woman who can't bear to say goodbye to her years in the theater. As her daughter Julie, Maureen Perry gives a strong performance as a woman at the height of her stardom who's trying to enjoy its every last advantage.

One of the biggest standouts is Isadore Alexander Wolfson's Oscar Wolfe. Wolfe has been the Cavendish family's manager for ages, but he is more a father figure than anything, acting in lieu of absent patriarch Aubrey Cavendish, whose portrait literally looms over the entire play.

Also outstanding is the play's set, designed by Delores Ringer. The Cavendish home is filled with gorgeous furniture and lights, as well as two magnificent staircases, which act as the set's centerpiece. Jack B. Wright's direction makes wonderful use of the entire set, and costume designer Beth Collins outfits the cast perfectly in 1920s period clothing.

At its heart, "The Royal Family" is more about family than it is about theater. The characters' efforts to maintain their sanity while balancing their personal and professional lives prove that theater isn't the only glue holding them together.

"The Royal Family" runs through March 8. For tickets, call 864-3982.

-- Aaron Passman is a Kansas University journalism student.


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