“You go out on stage and say some fool lines, and you love it.”
Those are lines of Fanny Cavendish, the matriarch of a famed family of multi-generational Broadway thespians, and it perfectly expresses what you’ll see when you take in Biloxi Center Stage’s comedy “The Royal Family,” opening Friday.
And you’ll leave feeling you got your money’s worth because of this production’s confluence of lavish costumes, stunning set design and the most accomplished performances the Coast has to offer.
This play is so intriguing, it is difficult to know where to begin. When the scene-stealing Natalie Nolan Howard (Fanny Cavendish) and always brilliant Wayne Stephens (Anthony Cavendish) tread the boards, it will show you the truth of the fact that these two are more fun to watch reading correspondence or newspapers than are most actors portraying Hamlet.
All the supporting cast members are so good it’s difficult to single any of them out; but it’s impossible not to mention how perfect David Slatten (Oscar Wolfe), Calvin Ishee (Gilbert Marshall), and Clayton Pennylegion (Herbert Dean) portray their characters, bringing the audience home to a 1920s Broadway dominated by the Cavendish (in real life, Barrymore) family.
But most of all this show belongs to Sharon McNair (Julie Cavendish), whose mesmerizing turn in a taxing role portraying a woman caught up in the web of balancing family and career must be seen to be believed.
McNair’s seamless shifting from one emotion to the next, embodying each one before abandoning it, will prove a memorable highlight of this production.
This play certainly could have gone the other way. Billed as a comedy about the madcap adventures of an acting family, in less skillful hands this show could have come off as an unpleasant group of histrionic narcissists chaotically hacking on each other in an unfunny manner.
For example, Fanny’s line, “Marriage isn’t a career, it’s an incident,” could have seemed more brutal than funny if delivered by a less accomplished actress.
But the lion’s share of the credit for avoiding failure goes to director Chuck White, who extracted sharp performances from this cast despite the chaotic talking over each other that seems to dominate each of the show’s three acts. This deftly controlled chaos is something only a seasoned director could produce. Significantly, you’ll be hard pressed to decide whether to watch the actors acting on stage left, or the ones reacting on stage right; when it works that well, it’s because of a perfect storm whipped up by director and cast.
Yet nothing on stage surpasses the outstanding work of costume designer Becky Green and set dresser Andy Kalberg; you’ll believe you’re ensconced in the 1920s, and treated to a magical setting by the best wizards of suspension of disbelief Mississippi has to offer.
By the time you see the stunning finale, you’ll probably realize this show is not as funny as one might expect from the minds of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. But you won’t care, having seized the opportunity to encounter acting, directing, stage dressing and stage managing (kudos to Ginny Russum) of this most exceptional quality.
The Royal Family
Written: by George S.Kaufman and Edna Ferber
Where: Center Stage, 2670 Rue Palafox, Biloxi
When: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., then May 3-6 at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.; no shows Monday or Tuesday
Cast: Ronya Bauman (Della), Lance Beuezech (Perry Stewart),Daniel Brown (McDermott/Gunga) Hannah Dougharty (Gwen Cavendish),Christopher M. Griffin (Hallboy),Calvin Ishee (Gilbert Marshall),Elizabeth Hart Ishee (Kitty Dean) ,Natalie Nolan Howard (Fanny Cavendish),Allan Micksch (Jo) Sharon McNair (Julie Cavendish, Clayton Pennyleigion (Herbert Dean), Becky Rutz (Miss Peake), Jim Rux (Chauffer), David Slatten (Oscar Wolfe),Wayne Stephens (Anthony Cavendish).
Production Staff: Artistic Director, Chuck White; Theatre manager, Ginny Russum; Stage manager, Becky Rutz; Costumes design, Becky Green; Set dressing, Andy Kalberg
Setting: The 1920s New York apartment of the Cavendish family