Story: Charley Wykeham, an undergraduate at Oxford, is in love with Amy Spettigue, niece of the officious Stephen Spettigue. Jack Chesney, Charley’s pal and another Oxford undergraduate, is in love with Spettigue’s ward, KittyVerdun. The young men long to express their feelings to their respective heart-throbs, and use the excuse of a visit by Charley’s aunt, Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez, a wealthy widow in Brazil who plans to see her nephew for the first time, so that Donna Lucia can serve as the young ladies’ chaperone.
The girls arrive but Donna Lucia does not, and so the girls quickly leave until the older lady is on the premises. Jack devises a scheme whereby Lord Fancourt “Babbs” Babberley, another Oxford undergraduate, will dress in his just-obtained costume for a theater part as an old lady and pose as Donna Lucia.
Jack is visited by his father, Colonel Sir Francis Chesney, a widower who informs Jack that he has inherited large family debts that will force Jack to take a job in Bengal. That’s drastic news to Jack, who then encourages his father to propose marriage to Donna Lucia, something that also occurs to the scheming Spettigue.
The real Donna Lucia arrives with her orphaned ward, Ela Delahay, a young woman who professes love for a young man named Fancourt Babberley whom she met years earlier and who, coincidentally, still loves her. Will the real Donna Lucia, who herself once loved a young soldier named Francis Chesney, sort everything out in this complicated mess?
Highlights: First performed in 1892, Brandon Thomas’ three-act farce was an immediate and huge hit in London, where it played for more than four years. It’s been performed countless times since on both sides of the Atlantic, including a production in 1995 by Act, Inc. Now, in repertory with a presentation of George Bernard Shaw’s Getting Married, Act Inc. is presenting a new rendition of this comic classic.
Other Info: Charley’s Aunt can be cause for guffaws and endless laughter when presented in slap-dash, madcap fashion. That’s not exactly the case with this Act, Inc. version directed carefully by Emily Robinson. While there’s sufficient hilarity in Thomas’ script to enliven most any presentation, Robinson’s controlled pacing keeps this rendition from reaching true comic heights.
There is an engaging performance by Jack Dryden in the title role. Dryden effectively displays the rakish qualities of Babbs as well as his riotously bad portrayal of an elderly lady, all the while flirting with Kitty and Amy.
Ian Brinkley is fine as the dapper and exasperated Charley, while Jesse Russell lends his imposing presence to the glowering and bumbling Spettigue. Also adding to the enjoyment is Tim Grumich as Jack’s enterprising and put-upon valet Brassett, a man of dubious dialect but humorous demeanor.
Jane Sullivan has great fun as the real Donna Lucia, particularly when she traps Babbs into stumbling through his supposed memories of Donna Lucia’s late husband. Nellie Ognacevic, Sara Womack and Tasha Zebrowski all are pleasant as the dutiful young ladies in waiting, Amy, Kitty and Ela, respectively.
Reginald Pierre is fine as Jack but could do more with the comic elements of his character, playing him a bit too refined for the most part. Richard Lewis is the epitome of a laid-back English gent as Jack’s soft-spoken dad, Sir Francis.
The theater-in-the-round setting utilized by Act Inc. works better with Charley’s Aunt than it does with Getting Married, as it allows the performers to enter and exit a pair of openings in close proximity to underscore farcical moments. Even these, however, seem too tame.
Jane Sullivan provides costumes apt for the time, place and social setting, Michael Sullivan’s lights are effective throughout and Zoe Sullivan’s sound design is a real treat, providing a jaunty, old-time-style musical score. Lewis is the dialect coach whose advice apparently is sometimes heeded, sometimes not. Meg Brinkley adds props while Lori Renna furnishes the wig design.
Everyone appears to be having a good time, albeit in a bit of slow-motioned time sequencing that ensures that any comic chaos is unfortunately dampened. Still, it’s always fun visiting with Charley’s Aunt, who comes from Brazil, where the nuts are.
Play: Charley’s Aunt
Company: Act, Inc.
Venue: Fontbonne Black Box Theatre, Wydown at Big Bend
Dates: June 28, 29, 30
Tickets: $20; contact 725-9108 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.