BWW Reviews: CHARLEY'S AUNT - An Oldie But a Surefire Goodie
A.D. Players production of BranDon Thomas's CHARLEY'S AUNT is classic farce at its finest. The show tells the story of two college friends, Jack Chesney and Charley Wykeham, who persuade another friend, Lord Fancourt Babberly or "Babbs," to impersonate Charley's Brazilian aunt, Donna Lucia, so they will have a chaperone when their love interests visit for a luncheon. This launches the cast into a series of humorous confused identities, imprudent romantic intentions, and awkward situations. CHARLEY'S AUNT's original London run lasted for a then unheard of and record-breaking 1,466 performances. Since its debut in February 1892, it is said that there has always been at least one production of the show happening somewhere in the world, making it a perennial favorite of theatergoers and producers.
Each element of this pristine production comes together perfectly. It is no secret that well-produced farce is all in the timing, and Jennifer Dean's spot on direction ensures that each hysterical moment is perfectly timed and delivered by her talented cast. Jennifer Dean has fond memories of when she was cast in A.D. Players last production of CHARLEY'S AUNT ten years ago. Her nostalgia only works to supplement the show, as this production feels fresh and sharp. Simply put, with Jennifer Dean's expert direction it is hard for audiences to believe that this show is actually 120 years old.
Kevin Dean's portrayal of Lord Fancourt Babberly is priceless, making the show well worth the ticket price and time spent at the theatre. His magnanimous acting is perfectly put to use in the role, as he deftly delivers each physical and verbal comedic moment without a flaw. Most ingeniously, Kevin Dean does not dawn a churlish falsetto while disguised as Donna Lucia, which makes it all the more amusing that his deception is not found out.
Blake Weir and Marty Blair both give fantastic performances as Jack Chesney and Charley Wykeham respectively. They easily exude the Oxford charm and wit that the audience expects of their characters; all the while maintaining believability as their ill-considered plan is brought into fruition and slowly deteriorates before their eyes. Furthermore, each one is responsible for many of the performance's laugh out loud moments, never dropping a beat and genuinely earning each peel of laughter from the audience.
Katharine Hatcher as Kitty Verdun and Leslie Reese as Amy Spettigue are both charming and beautiful. Katharine Hatcher masterfully shows the poise and dignity of Kitty while Leslie Reese utilizes well-employed moments of schoolgirl giggles and fawning in her portrayal of Amy. The differences between the two female leads allow the actresses to play well off of one another, heightening the experience for the audience.
Rounding out the cast, Linford Herschberger adroitly conveys a well-worn valet that knows how to sneak a good drink or two with his portrayal of Brassett, Ric Hodgin's Coloner Sir Francis Chesney is kind and affable, Chip Simmon is resplendently cantankerous as Stephen Spettigue, Patty Tuel Bailey's Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez is both fun and enchanting, and Leslie Lenert is stunning and sublime as Ela Delahay.
It is simply a shame that Donna Southern Schmidt's costume design for this production is not eligible for Tony award consideration. Each and every ensemble on stage is perfectly tailored to the performer and time period. Her work on this show is astonishing and is most eye-catching and enjoyable in the beautiful dresses that each actress wears. Donna Southern Schmidt truly outdoes herself with the third act's eveningwear, when the gowns mesmerize.
Marc A. Lewis has expertly designed the set as well. It is nuanced in its beauty, looking rich and immaculate. Moreover, it captures the essence and quality of both the time period of the show and when sets were functional but spectacular without needing computerized embellishments and gimmicks to aid in the audiences ability to enjoy the show.
A.D. Player's charismatic and endearing production of CHARLEY'S AUNT is a great way for the whole family to escape Houston's oppressive summer heat. This truly wonderful production will have you laughing until your sides ache.
CHARLEY'S AUNT runs at A.D. Player's Grace Stage until August 26, 2012. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.adplayers.org/ or call (713) 526 – 2721.
CHARLEY'S AUNT logo is courtesy of A.D. Players. Photos are courtesy of Bara Photography.
Kevin Dean as Lord Babberly Fancourt