Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Charley's Aunt"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2008 by Tony Annicone

"Charley's Aunt"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The first show at Providence College Blackfriars Theatre is the 1892 farce, "Charley's Aunt" by Brandon Thomas. The show is set in Victorian England and Queen Victoria plays a big part in it. "God Save the Queen" at various tempos introduces all three acts with the character of Lord Babberley dressed in a black satin skirt, a lace fichu, a pair of lacey gloves, an old fashioned cap and wig, while also wearing a portrait of Queen Victoria with his head sticking out of a hole in it. It is Commemoration Week at Oxford University and the three acts take place first in Jack Chesney's room in College, then in a Garden outside his college rooms and finally in the living room at Stephen Spettigue, the lawyer's drawing room. The plotline is as follows: Jack loves Kitty Verdun and Charles Wykeham loves Miss Amy Spettigue, Stephen's niece. They invite the ladies to their dorm room to meet Charley's wealthy aunt, Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez from Brazil where the nuts come from. (which is a running joke in this very humorous show) But alas, the millionaire aunt sends word that she will have to defer her visit for a few days. What is to be done? The girls can't meet the boys without a proper chaperone. Their virtue can't be compromised, no never! But neither will the youthful yearnings of the two youths to declare their love for the said girls.The problem is solved by forcing another undergraduate at Oxford, Lord Babberley, called Babs to dress up as Charley's Aunt. This old frump is then introduced to the sweethearts, to Jack's father who secretly loved the real Donna Lucia many years ago and to Stephen Spettigue, Miss Spettigue's uncle and Miss Verdun's guardian. Then things get even more frantic when the real aunt shows up. In the comic confusion that results, young Babs, posing as the aunt, tricks Stephen Spettigue into agreeing to the marriage of his niece to Charley, also to his ward's marriage to Jack, the real aunt marries Jack's father and "Charley's Aunt" (Babs) regains the fortune he lost at gambling and the girl he loves who is conveniently traveling with the real aunt. The play had a historically long original London run of 1,466 performances in 1893 and has appeared on Broadway both in its original version and in the 1940's as the musical version called "Where's Charley?''. Directed by Brendan Byrnes who graduated magna cum laude from PC in 1992 and is now a professional actor in New York; He returns in triumph to direct this hilarious farce which still pleases audiences almost one hundred and twenty years after it was written. From his stylized blocking where everyone moves in unison counter clock wise to mirror the other person's movements to his training of the college performers in their pronunciation of lines and all the comic shtick, shows his brilliance as a director. His fine tuned eye for comedy shines forth as does his multitalented ten member cast. (Throw in a starch-laced manservant to the mix while the uncle clad in an black opera cape plays the show's comic villain.) The show is rewarded with a spontaneous standing ovation which caps the merriment of the evening perfectly while the hit song from the musical, "Once in Love with Amy" plays in the background..

Brendan is aided in this huge task by scenic designer, Patrick Lynch. He makes the raked stage set look simple but it is quite intricate. The two free standing doorways, some chairs and the 8 portraits of Queen Victoria are what adorn the dorm room set. (The one with a moustache painted on it is hysterical.) The garden set consists of green felt placed upon the stage and a lawn type of green scrim with Queen Victoria outlined on it while the drawing room consists of the chairs arranged in a different way. The costume designer, David Costa-Cabral outdoes himself in this show with all the 1890's style costumes especially the four gowns for the party scene in the various colors of red, blue, green and gold. (The gold one stood out in particular with brunette beauty wearing it.) The lighting design for the various times of the day are expertly handled by Elissa Pensa Cerros who runs the theatre department at Lasalle Academy while the sound designer is Paul Perry. Leading this talented cast as Lord Babberley is freshman, Alexander MacIntyre who makes an astounding debut in his first show in college. (He is a fresh faced rosy cheeked boy) His hilarious facial expressions and mannerisms as both the cigar smoking, heavy drinking boy and the homely lady are perfect. (The funny thing is the girl playing the real aunt is a bona fide beauty while he isn't while dressed as the woman.) Alexander's constant falling down on his behind while clad in the skirt is very comical as is when he pours tea and cream into the cad, Spettigue's black top hat. Bravo on the first of many parts to come in this talented lad's future.

The two exuberant and horny college boys are excellently played by Marc Francis as Jack and Stephen Orlando as Charley. (They first appear in their Cricket attire and finally by the third act, they get to wear these very handsome tuxedos.)These two run about the stage in all three acts never losing an ounce of energy while doing so. Their acting is wonderful, having seen them in "Amadeus", a couple of years ago at PC, shows how they have grown as actors. The straight laced manservant, Brassett is well played by Alex Curran. When he bursts into laughter at the crazy shenanigans going on around him, the audience roars its approval with gales of laughter. The gorgeous two girls are the pretty raven haired Suzanne Keyes who played Dottie in "Noises Off" last year, as Kitty and the beautiful blond haired Colleen Burns as Amy. These two young ladies capture the essence of the perfect young ladies from the gay-ninety's wonderfully while their synchronized movements are executed with grace and skill. Christine Cestaro does a nice turn as the pretty dark haired orphan, Ela who secretly fell in love with Babs when he lost his money gambling and she unknowingly confesses her secret love to Babs while he is dressed as Charley's Aunt. The performers playing the older characters are fantastic because they have to become much older than they are in real life and the three of them do it with ease. The villain of the show (as much of a villain as can be seen in farce) Stephen Spettigue is played by Marc Hassan who reminds the audience of Snidley Whiplash. His chase scene where he runs after Babs as the aunt is hysterical. Having seen Peter Cunis in "Noises Off" and Samantha Brilhante in"Funny Girl" last season at the college, I expected wonderful things from the both of them and believe me I was not disappointed. Peter kept falling down the stairs in last year's show and this year he plays Jack's father, Colonel Chesney, who was in the army and stationed in India. (The pronunciation of India is another running joke.) He decides to woo the fake aunt, even though he finds her unattractive so he can regain his money. His many asides to the audience and his stiff backed portrayal of this army office on right on the money. The most outstanding member of the cast is Samantha as the real Donna Lucia. Her gorgeous appearance while clad in black makes her stand out. She has an aura about her that captures your attention immediately. While only a sophomore she displays a maturity beyond her years. She did a topnotch job last year as Mrs. Brice in "Funny Girl". She is an actress with a bright future ahead of her. Brava! So for a look back at a farcical show that still works for current day audiences, be sure to catch "Charley's Aunt at Providence College before time runs out. Brendan's version will leave you in stitches all night long.

"Charley's Aunt" (24 October - 2 November)
PROVIDENCE COLLEGE
Angells Blackfriar Theatre, 549 River Avenue, PROVDIENCE RI
1 (401) 865-2218

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