“Charley’s Aunt” by Brandon Thomas, produced by Maureen Rogers and directed by Patrick Pase is now playing at the Laurel Mill Playhouse on historic Main Street in Laurel, MD.
The play, a classic farce, opened in 1892 in London. It also played on Broadway in 1893. There have been many revivals and adaptations, including a movie with Jack Benny in the title role. It has been done all over the world and translated into many languages.
The story steals from Shakespeare’s comedic plots where someone hides their identity, via costume and wig, and romance abounds. Briefly, Charley (Patrick O’Connell) and his friend, Jack (James Olsen), are two students at Oxford. They are in love with Amy Spettigue (Emily Bruun) and Kitty Verdun (Rebecca Korn). In their efforts to profess their love and obtain permission to marry from Amy’s uncle, Stephen Spettigue (Lenny Dinerman), they enlist a friend, Lord Fancourt Babberly (Michael Safko). They implore him to impersonate Charley’s Aunt, Donna Lucia (Marge McGugan) who is on her way to visit but has been delayed.
Spettigue would like to marry Donna Lucia as she has great wealth. Jack’s father, Sir Francis Chesney (David Chalmers), tells Jack he is in great financial trouble. Jack suggests that he, Sir Francis, marry Donna Lucia. Of course, this all becomes terribly complicated due to Babberly’s – known as Babbs – cross-dressing. To make things more convoluted, Charley’s real aunt shows up with her young niece, Ela Delahay (Megan Safko). Ela and Babbs have a romantic history as well. The ending is predictable. After all, this was written in the 19th Century. However, it is a wonderful romp as we maze our way to the end.
‘Charley’s Aunt’ may be over a century old. but on the Laurel Mill Playhouse’s stage, it does not show its age. Don’t miss this rollicking production.
James Olsen brings a lot of energy to the role of Jack Chesney. He and O’Connell as Charley Wykeham are comfortable together as the two friends. O’Connell’s calmness plays well off of Jack’s nervousness.
Michael Safko as Charley’s Aunt’s impersonator is quite funny, and his scene with Ela, sweetly played by Megan Safko (the two are married in the real world), reveals a great deal about the more endearing part of Babb’s personality. It explains why he is going to these great lengths to help his friends. At first, we think it is so he can flirt with Amy and Kitty, but as the plot develops, we see Babbs truly wants to help his buddies find true love.
Bruun and Korn as the two objects of the Charley’s and Jack’s affection are adorably giggly and flirtatious keeping the two young ladies looking like they came out of an 1890’s scrapbook.
Dinerman as the not very insightful Spettigue is wonderfully full of bluster and just a little villainous as he reveals he is a bit of a gold digger wanting to marry Donna Lucia – despite the fact she looks like a man. Chalmers and McGugan have nice chemistry as the older romantics. Patrick Pase is fine as the British butler who is obviously the most grounded of the group. His comments on the action reflect how servants often really saw their employers.
Pase’s direction hits the right chords, especially in the chase sequences. The scene when Babbs tries to pilfer several bottles of champagne from his friends is particularly enjoyable. The contraband moves from hand to hand with precision timing.
Marge McGugan again does a spectacular job with costuming. The ladies all wear very Victorian dresses and hats. The men wear similarly suitable clothing, including evening attire. The top hats and skimmers are a great touch.
Patrick Pase’s Set, Sound and Lighting Design is effectual. Although Benny Hill’s musical theme is anachronistic, it works nicely in one of the many chase scenes. The time period is created mostly with furniture except when the upstage curtain is drawn to reveal a large picture window with a lovely British landscape at Spettigue’s home.
“Charley’s Aunt” may be over a century old. but on the Laurel Mill Playhouse’s stage, it does not show its age. Don’t miss this rollicking production.
Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes with Two Ten Minute Intermissions.
Note: Susan Brall has a theatrical connection with members of the crew and cast. It has not affected her review.