“Charley’s Aunt,” premiered at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison on Oct. 27.
Written by Brandon Thomas in late 19th-century Britain, the production broke a historical record after running for more than four years in London.
Set at St. Olde’s College in Oxford, the play opens with Jack Chesney (Aaron McDaniel) sitting at his desk looking over a letter he is planning to send out to Kitty Verdun (Erica Knight), to whom he plans to profess his love before she leaves for Scotland with her guardian, Stephen Spettigue (John Ahlin).
After a few minutes of pondering, his friend, Charley Wykeham (Isaac Hickox-Young), comes over and announces he is in the same predicament as he is planning to profess his love to Kitty’s friend, Amy Spettigue (Emiley Kiser), Stephen’s niece, before she leaves for Scotland, as well.
In conversation, Charley mentions his aunt, Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez, is coming to town. Donna Lucia is a rich widow who has been living in Brazil with her (now deceased) husband. She paid to put Charley through school after the death of his parents at a very young age.
Jack quickly hatches a plan to host a lunch for Charley’s aunt while also inviting over Kitty and Amy, so they can profess their love for them in person before their departure, hoping the two of them will decide to stay with the men instead of going to Scotland.
Realizing it may be rude of them to leave Charley’s aunt by herself while the two of them try to win over their ladies, the friends seek out Lord Fancourt “Babbs” Babberly (Seamus Mulcahy) to join them for lunch as well to assist in entertaining Charley’s aunt.
When approaching Babbs, he informs them he cannot make it to lunch because he needs to try on the costume he is wearing for his part in a local theater production.
Jack and Charley try to convince him otherwise and tell him he is more than welcome to try on his costume at their home before lunch. Babbs, not seeing a way out, reluctantly agrees and goes to change into his outfit.
While offstage, Jack and Charley begin to plan out lunch. Charley receives a message informing him his aunt is stuck doing some business and will not be able to come to Oxford for a few more days.
The boys begin to panic because now they will not have a chaperone for their lunch with the girls, and without a chaperone the girls will not be able to attend.
Babbs reenters the stage, now in full costume. Wearing a black gown and gray wig, he informs them he will be playing an elderly woman in his theater’s show. Jack and Charley realize Babbs will have to act as Charley’s aunt in order for them to host their lunch.
Director Joseph Discher does an excellent job with this production. Not only is the show hilarious from Thomas’ script, but Discher adds physical humor to the production, as well. There seems to be many scenes throughout the performance where Discher uses the characters to add humor to the show.
When telling Babbs he will have to act as Charley’s aunt for their lunch, he, of course, tries to run away. Jack and Charley grab him by either side and lift him off the ground while his legs are still running. It’s an example of light humor like this that adds to Thomas’ humorous script.
The tone of the show was pleasurable, as well. Seeing as “Charley’s Aunt,” is more than 120 years old, you could make a case the well-known production is predictable or maybe even stuffy due to its high-brow sense of humor. However, that was not the case at all.
Through Discher’s directing, the show was not only entertaining but hilarious. There were numerous times throughout the three-act show where the entire audience was hysterical.
The show is fun for all ages, as I noticed the pre-teens sitting in the aisle next to me were in laughing fits as they rolled back and forth in their theater seats, while the elderly couple sitting in front of me were chuckling along, as well.
Seamus Mulcahy, who played Lord Fancourt “Babbs” Babberly, was the highlight of the show. Mulcahy went through every emotion in the book when playing this hilarious character. I think it takes some true talent for an actor to play a character who is playing another character. So for Mulcahy to being acting as Babbs, who is playing Donna Lucia, was very impressive. He also brought his own humor and wit into his character, which was amusing, as well.
Peter Simon Hilton played Brassett. Jack’s butler was not a pivotal character to the story’s plot, but provided more humor to the production. Hilton offered a stone-cold face and attitude when delivering a comedic line, which added to the hilarity. The sarcastic sense Hilton provided was one to note, as it was his droll delivery that made his lines even more humorous.
“Charley’s Aunt” continues at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, 36 Madison Ave., Madison, through Nov. 18. For more information and tickets, call 973-408-5600, or visit www.shakespearenj.org.