Review: ‘Charley’s Aunt’ a barrel of laughs

"Charley's Aunt," Randall L. Jones Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, circa 2015 | Photo courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

CEDAR CITY – The lively spirit in the Randall L. Jones Theatre sets the mood for a fun-filled night, brimming with quick-witted slapstick foolery that keeps patrons in stitches for more than two hours, as “Charley’s Aunt” comes to life on the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s stage.

Charley's Aunt, Randall L. Jones Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, July 11, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News
“Charley’s Aunt,” Randall L. Jones Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, circa 2015 | Photo courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

The set (Jack Magaw) of the three-act farce is decked out with an aristocratic flare that any blue-blooded Oxford University student would expect to encounter at the boarding house of a fine institution of learning. The blue walls trimmed in white give a bright pop of color to the rich wood furniture and flooring – defining the space as sophisticated but not stuffy.

Almost immediately, the sidesplitting laughter begins.

Young Jack Chesney (Brendan Marshall-Rashid), whose impassioned pleas-of-the-heart have such difficulty finding their way to the blank pages of his notepad, reveals early on his precociously opportunistic tendencies.

The perfect counterpart to Jack’s folly is quickly found in Charley Wykeham (Tasso Feldman), whose cautious disposition creates an almost childlike vulnerability that is easily exploited by his silver-tongued friend.

Charley's Aunt, Randall L. Jones Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, July 11, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News
“Charley’s Aunt,” Randall L. Jones Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, circa 2015 | Photo courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

In a time when courtship is a delicate dance of deliberate steps toward the object of one’s affection, Jack and Charley both find themselves desperately in love. Unable to proclaim their love freely, the two men seek out a manner of delivery to win the affections of their beloveds.

The rapt audience at the performance I attended quickly became enamored with the onstage antics of the young men, and soon, it was almost as if they had become one with the actors on the stage. Each quick-witted wisecrack was met with bounteous, infectious laughter that rippled through the theater.

The exquisite costumes (Bill Black) married to the thoughtfully designed backdrop and impeccable light design (Kirk Bookman) easily melted away the room and transported audience members to another era. It actually felt like I had stepped back in time.

Looking around the room, I noticed that not a single other person took their eyes off the stage for even a second, clinging to each moment with fervent investment as the story unfolded before us.

In the show, Charley quickly finds himself caught up in Jack’s bombastic vision when he learns that his Aunt Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez, a wealthy widow who rescued him as an orphan and put him through school, will be visiting from Brazil – “where the nuts come from.”

Charley's Aunt, Randall L. Jones Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, July 11, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News
“Charley’s Aunt,” Randall L. Jones Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, circa 2015 | Photo courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

As the roller coaster of events playing out before us spun out of control, it was impossible not to become sincerely distressed when, after inviting their special ladies to lunch with Charley’s aunt, the boys learn she will not be arriving after all.

The aftermath of ridiculousness that follows as Charley and Jack’s poor friend “Babbs” (Michael Doherty) finds himself at the center of a recipe for disaster left the entire audience howling with laughter throughout the rest of the night. I mean, who would have guessed such a handsome young man would make for such a provocatively saucy old lady?

Settling into the role of Charley’s aunt, “Babbs” manages to not only win the affections of the one man who holds the power to grant Jack and Charley permission to marry their love interests, but “Babbs” attracts another reluctant suitor as well – Jack’s father, who has fallen on hard times financially.

As the storyline continues to twist – similar to the winding of a clock – it is obvious the charade cannot continue at the pace it’s going without a rapid devolution to follow. And, oh, how divinely the deception unravels once Charley’s actual aunt shows up, despite the indecisive messages her nephew had received.

From beginning to end, the timeless comedy that first made its way to the stage in the late 1800s brought a sense of connectedness, fun and suspense to all who were lucky enough to be in the room that night. Director David Ivers, an 18-year veteran of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and who once played the role of Jack in “Charley’s Aunt” himself, took the 1892 Brandon Thomas farce and polished it up USF-style circa 2015. Bravo!

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

 

 

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