NEW YORK - Oh, those theater folks! They do carry on.

And the way they cavort and complain has been captured perfectly in the effervescent Manhattan Theatre Club revival of "The Royal Family," the still-sturdy 1927 comedy by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber.

The play, which opened Thursday at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is a fictionalized look at the legendary Barrymore family of actors, a merry-if-volatile tribe of performers who dominated the American stage in the early part of the 20th century.

Fortunately, the MTC production is graced with a terrific collection of actors who rise to the heightened flamboyance needed to carry out these highly theatrical impersonations.

The cast is headed by the ever-lovely Rosemary Harris, portraying Fanny Cavendish, the grande dame of this exotic troupe.

Harris has a serene stage presence, even when Fanny is zinging the other characters on stage, particularly her offspring, daughter Julie and son Tony, as well as her brother Herbert and his vulgar wife Kitty.

If anything, the play focuses on Julie, played by Jan Maxwell, a woman torn between her career and the possibility of life outside the theater with a wealthy businessman (Larry Pine). He's her one-time beau now back in the picture after an absence of many years.

Director Doug Hughes has cast the show well all the way down the line. Check out the work done by the actors who play the Cavendish maid and butler, Caroline Stefanie Clay and David Greenspan. Despite only a minimum amount of time on stage, they do exemplary work in creating real characters.

But then Hughes never lets any of the actors descend into cartoons, which makes the play's surprisingly emotional ending all the more poignant - especially after all the frivolous mayhem that has preceded it.

Associated Press