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A CurtainUp NJ Review
Charley's Aunt, a roaring success from its first staging in 1892, has enjoyed numerous revivals including a 1941 film version starring Jack Benny and a 1948 stage musical and its subsequent film adaptation (1952) Charley's Aunt both starring dancer Ray Bolger.
The need for a nonsensical farce and a few good laughs may be the prime reason for the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey to resurrect this relic during these unsettling times, but it has been done up amusingly and handsomely. May I suggest that you just loosen up and accept what is portrayed expertly for your amusement.
With more exposition than is really necessary, the play's purposefully convoluted plot nearly wears itself out before it gets started. But never mind as we are totally committed to the antics of an Oxford undergraduate Lord Fancourt Babberly (Seamus Mulcahy) who reluctantly agrees to impersonate en travestie the widowed Brazilian aunt of his friend Charles (Isaac Hickox-Young.) This, so that Charles and his friend Jack (Aaron McDaniel) will have a proper appearance of a chaperone while expressing their love to their respective girl-friends Amy (Emiley Kiser) and Kitty (Erica Knight). The radiant charms of both Kiser and Knight are disarmingly revealed and look lovely in their gowns beautifully designed for them by Natalie Loveland.
Mulcahy's approach to the role, under the direction of Joseph Discher, is not intended to show how a gentleman in skirts, wearing a bonnet and brandishing a fan may effectively assume the more believable postures and poses of a woman. However, it takes more than two and a half hours for his jig to be up. Leave home all memories of the amazing transformations made by Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie , Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire or Cary Grant and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot . To his credit and with all his grins and groans and grimaces aside, Mulchay is wonderfully incredulous. His investment in outrageously unconvincing shtick are among the best parts of this familiar warhorse.
I say among because this cast is not about to sit back and let one acknowledged scene-stealer take total control. Erika Rolfsrud is splendid as the real Aunt Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez “the celebrated millionaire” who shows up a little late in the game accompanied by her ward Ela (a delightful Sally Kingsford). The real aunt's romantic past with Jack's handsome and distinguished father Colonel Sir Frances Chesney (an impressive David Andrew MacDonald) is reawakened and exists as the most of the disarming of the coincidences. John Ahlin is fearsomely funny as Amy's father, an old goat in perpetual pursuit of the fake aunt. Peter Simon Hilton is excellent as the semi-detached butler Brassett.
Accents come and go as frequently as do the characters' clever asides to the audience. And despite the snail's pacing of the often labored text, there are the requisite madcap exits and entrances, coincidental meetings and exuberant performances to offset the play's stodgier moments. Brian Prather's three impressive settings evoke various locations in and around St. Olde's College, Oxford. Here is a rare chance to enjoy this old collegiate caper for the lark that it is. Take advantage of this opportunity.
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Charley's Aunt by Brandon Thomas
Directed by Joseph Discher
Cast: John Ahlin (Stephen Spettigue), David Andrew MacDonald (Colonel Sir Frances Chesney, Aaron McDaniel (Jack Chesney), Isaac Hickox-Young (Charles Wykeham), Seamus Mulcahy (Lord Fancourt Babberly), Peter Simon Hilton (Brassett), Erika Rolfsrud (Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez), Emiley Kiser (Amy Spettigue), Erica Knight (Kitty Verdun), Sally Kingford (Ela Delahay)
Scenic Designer: Brian Prather
Costume Designer: Natalie Loveland
Lighting Designer: Matthew E. Adelson
Sound Designer: Steven Beckel
Production Stage Manager: Kathy Snyder
Dialect Coach: Julie Foh
. Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes including two intermissions.
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Main Stage, 36 Madison Avenue (on the campus of Drew University at Lancaster Road), Madison, N.J.
973 - 408 - 5600 or www.ShakespeareNJ.org.
Tickets: $29 - $69
Performances: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 7:30 pm; Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm; Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.
From 10/24/18 Opened 10/27/18 Ends 11/18/18
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/30/18
NJ Theatre Alliance
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