A 122-year-old play proves the perfect choice to bring Whittier Community Theatre’s 92nd season to a close, since neither the class-act community theater nor the comedy classic Charley’s Aunt seems anywhere near its age.
Brandon Thomas’s chef-d’oeuvre takes us back to Oxford University circa 1892 (the year the play debuted) where undergrads Jack Chesney (Austin Sauer) and Charley Wykeham (Andrew Cerecedes) find themselves head-over-heels in love with their respective sweethearts Kitty Verdun (Jasmine West) and Amy Spettigue (Amanda Riisager).
There’s nothing our two heroes want more than to propose to their ladies fair, but there’s a hitch: Neither girl is willing to visit Harry and Charley’s campus digs without a female chaperone on hand.
Fortunately Jack receives word that Charley’s wealthy widowed aunt, Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez, is arriving from Brazil just in time to be of assistance.
Unfortunately word arrives that Donna Lucia won’t be arriving till a few days from now.
Fortunately their fellow undergrad Lord Fancourt Babberley aka “Babbs” (Kieran Flanagan) just happens to be appearing in a school production in female drag, and having just tried on his costume when Kitty and Amy return, who best to pretend to be Charley’s aunt than you know who?
Adding to the madcap mix are the undergrads’ servant Brassett (Jim Gittelson), Jack’s father Colonel Sir Francis Chesney (Anthony Duke), Amy’s uncle Stephen Spettigue aka “Old Spettigue” (Tim Heaton), Babbs’ dream girl Ela Delahay (Louisa Brazeau), and the real Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez (Nancy Tyler), whose not-so-delayed arrival presents the boys with not one but two Charley’s Aunts to juggle as they make their way towards the happy ending any farce fan worth his or her salt can see coming from lights up.
As for those who might hesitate to see a play whose youngest original cast members would now be approaching their sesquicentennial, rest assured that Charley’s Aunt remains so fresh and frothy a romp that it could almost have been written yesterday.
WCT has wisely entrusted the reins of their 92nd Season closer to SoCal community theater mainstay Roxanne Barker, whose keen, imaginative direction ensures that her cast of both newbies and vets deliver sparkling performances, a number of which are indistinguishable from those you might see on any of our professional stages, cast members almost without exception on top of both lines and projection.
Brazeau, Riisager, and West could not make for a lovelier trio of English posies. Add that Cerecedes’ snappy patter, Heaton’s gruff bluster, Tyler’s grand-dame grandness, Duke’s gray-haired charm, and Gittelson’s snooty servility and you’ve got as fine a featured ensemble as I’ve seen at WCT.
Best of all are Charley’s Aunt’s two talented leads.
Sauer’s comedic panache and assured command of the stage (and of Jack’s Oxfordian accent) make the Chapman University student “one to watch,” while Flanagan (about to head off for the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) goes from an ever so engaging Babbs to as deliciously droll a gray-haired Charley’s Aunt as any Charley’s Aunt could wish for.
The latest from Whittier Community Theatre benefits from a trio of cleverly designed sets lit with professional flair by Rosalva Reza. Lois Tedrow’s late 19th-century costumes are some of WCT’s best, with a special tip of the hat to a certain someone’s Whistler’s Mother-worthy accouterments. Cherrie Lakey “and others” have come up with a bunch of terrific period props. Suzanne Frederickson scores top marks for her sound design, providing just enough amplification while still giving audience members the feeling of hearing real, live voices.
Charley’s Aunt is produced by Gabe Puga. Emilie Brazeau is stage manager.
Whittier Community Theatre has dedicated their 92nd Season closer to the late, much beloved Howard “Deac” Hunter, Jr., born the year of WCT’s birth, whose loss this past March deprived theatergoers of the man whose name had, for nearly half a century, been synonymous with the theater that owes him so much.
Deac starred in Charley’s Aunt back in 1990, three years before he directed this reviewer in Li’l Abner. Charley’s Aunt 2014 carries on the legacy of a long and well-spent life. Deac would be proud indeed of the latest from Whittier Community Theatre.
Whittier Community Theatre, The Center Theatre, 7630 S. Washington Ave., Whittier.
June 8, 2014