June 4, 2020

The Royal Family: Sometimes Blood is Thicker than Usual


The Royal Family opened to a packed house at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum on June 22.


<i>The Royal Family</i>: Sometimes Blood is Thicker than Usual

From left, Willow Geer, Tim Halligan, Abby Craden, Melora Marshall, Ellen Geer and Alan Blumenfeld star in The Royal Family at the TheatricumBotanicumthrough September 28. Prologue, a cast and crew discussion, will take place on Sunday, Aug. 25, at 2:30 p.m. before the show.

Like keys on a finely tuned piano, each performer rang true, with nary a flat note in the bunch. Perfectly cast and delivered, was a delight to watch and the perfect comedy antidote for a steamy summer’s evening in Topanga Canyon.

Written by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, The Royal Family is a tour de force comedy of manners, a loosely based parody of the Barrymores’ theatrical dynasty. In fact, a portrait of Lionel Barrymore hangs above the stairs on the set, a wink to the obvious parody.


<i>The Royal Family</i>: Sometimes Blood is Thicker than Usual

Ellen Geer, Willow Geer and Melora Marshall star in The Royal Family at the Theatricum Botanicum, currently celebrating its 40th Anniversary.

This is also art imitating life imitating art when three generations of Topanga’s Royal Family take to the stage as the core cast: Ellen Geer as Fanny Cavendish, the matriarch of the family; sister Melora Marshall plays her daughter, Julie Cavendish; daughter Willow Geer as Fanny’s grand-daughter, Gwen Cavendish; and daughter-in-law Abby Craden as Kitty Dean.

Director Susan Angelo remarks, “Who better to play these parts than the Geers? They understand what it means to devote their lives to the theater.”

This is a noisy play that begins with commotion, phones ringing, doorbells, deliveries, calls to people upstairs, and servants rushing around shouting amid confusion. This is also a play about entrances and exits, particularly female entrances with great drama and many ruffles and flourishes. Exits were quieter.

And what about Melora Marshall? Is there nothing she cannot do? From other seasons of shows where she performed gender-bending male roles both comedic and serious, her range has continued to stretch into new octaves. As the over-the-top dramatic Julie Cavendish, she shines like the Super Moon in the sky above the Theatricum on opening night. Every gesture and pause is perfectly on key and sheds its light on the rest of the production.

Abby Craden as Kitty Dean enters with that dress! That hat? Pink satin, flapper beads, hips swaying back and forth like a metronome. Kitty is so obviously not part of the core Cavendishes that she feels she must out-Cavendish them and in this family, that is quite a feat. Her sashay walk by itself is worth an admission ticket.

Ellen Geer as Fanny delivers her lines with strength, confidence, wisdom and aplomb, sending zingers like this one out into the universe “You had to know how to act in MYThe Royal Family day!” She is a rock. The steady leader of the family and also holds its heart.

Willow Geer shines with her pouty naiveté, her childlike character of Gwen stretching from teen to top-billed star in a heartbeat. When pressed with a choice between a new play or matrimony, Gwen exclaims, “I’m sick of being a Cavendish. I want to be a human being.”


<i>The Royal Family</i>: Sometimes Blood is Thicker than Usual

From left, Abby Craden and Tim Halligan in The Royal Family currently running at the Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga.

And, on the flip side when arguing about justifying acting as a career to her stockbroker fiancé, Perry Stewart, she declares, “Name TWO seventeenth-century stock brokers. I can [name a dozen] actors.” And with one line, wins the argument.

There are men in this play, yes, but the story is not really about them.

Instead, it is the dynamic of the women in the family, their love/hate affair with the theater, with each other and the over-the-top lives they lead together. Aaron Hendry as the wayward Cavendish son, Tony, a would-be movie-star idol and small-time hoodlum, steals the stage for the moments he arrives and departs, but this is really a story about females in a household where men play supporting and walk-on roles.

If the men are merely a means to an end, Andy Stroken, as Gwen’s long-suffering fiancé and Alan Blumenfeld as the dutifully loyal Oscar Wolfe, the family’s long-suffering agent, add exactly the right amount of vigor to agitate the action forward. As does Bill Gunter who portrays Gilbert Marshall, the equally long-suffering and unrequited lover of Julie, as a self-made man who returns after having made his fortune ten times over only to find Julie still married to the stage.

They are all married to the stage.

Also of note were the charming intermission actors who did a lovely job harmonizing the praises of the Theatricum and reminding audience members to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the theater in its fundraising effort to raise $400,000, a much-worthy local arts endeavor.

Note: Prologue, a cast and crew discussion takes place Sunday, Aug. 25, at 2:30 p.m. before the show.

Performances of The Royal Familyrun through Sept. 28 at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum,1419 N Topanga Canyon Blvd. 90290. Picnickers are welcome before and after shows. Snacks are available at intermission at the Hamlet Hut. Dress warmly in layers (since summer evenings can get chilly). Bring pillows or cushions for the bench seating.

The Royal FamilyThere will be one 10-minute intermission during this performance.

Tickets: $35 (lower tier); $25 (upper tier); Seniors (60­+), students, military veterans, AEA Members: $25/$15; Children 7-12: $10; Under 6, free.

For more information: (310) 455-3723; theatricum.com or follow on Twitter @theatricum."The Royal Family"