DRAPER — Charley’s Aunt is a comedic farce by Brandon Thomas that was first produced in 1892. The classic story follows young Lord Babberly, played by Alex Richey, who is convinced by his two friends to impersonate Charley’s Aunt in order to provide some distraction while they woo their romantic interests. Of course, hilarity ensues as the real aunt shows up to mess with the plan of the young students. As the inaugural production of Lamplight Theatre Company housed at the Draper Historic Theatre, director Kylee Larsen has chosen to take the traditionally late 1800’s setting and move it to the early 2000’s with some interesting diversions from the original feel of the classic play.
The company decided to offer this production as a theatre in the round, setting up the audience in seats on the stage for a very intimate production and a strong feeling of connection with the characters. Set design by Richard Larsen and lighting design by Eldon B. Randall were simple but effective in portraying the image and experience of college dormitories of the early 2000’s.
While it is a common decision of theatre companies to change the time frame of classic stories, some of these translations work better than others. Some of the very positive changes in this production were the use of text messaging rather than notes to convey messages, and the fun references to things that meant one thing in 1892 and something very different in 2000. However, there were a few plot lines that did not translate as well to the idea of life in Oxford England in the year 2000. While Viktoria Elandsson did an excellent job portraying the traditionally male butler role of Brassett, the simple idea of a group of young men having a female servant in modern day England was a bit of a stretch. The main plot line revolves around the desire of Charley, played by Jeremy Sidewell, and Jack, played by Jake Wilkins, having a strong desire to have a lunch date with Kitty Verdun, played by Bailey Loveless, and Amy Spettigue, played by Stacy Wilk, but they cannot do it without the presence of a chaperone—again a storyline that made sense in 1892 but feels quite antiquated in the modern society of 2000. On the other hand, the changes of time made for fun choices in costume and music by Kylee Larsen. I was most amused by a very college luncheon of pizza served with napkins rather than a fancy luncheon that would have been served in 1892.
After getting past the nuances of the time change, the performances of the cast were quite enjoyable. Richey as Babberly impersonating Charley’s Aunt definitely stole the show more than once with his comedic performance of an old and doting aunt. The physical humor of a man trying to accurately portray an old woman added to the hilarity of the evening, and Richey commanded that portrayal well. When the actual aunt, Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez, played by Anna Kennedy, enters the scene, there are a lot of great interactions, including the fun that is had when Jack’s father Sir Francis Chesney, played by Kaelob Berger, and the uncle of Amy and guardian of Kitty, Stephen Spettigue, played by Mitch Daley, also become involved. Each of the players excel well in their roles, and the classic story is one that portrays the confusion of mistaken identity well. Rounding out the cast is Lexie Macedo as Ela Delahey, an adopted ward of Donna and love interest of Babberly, complicating his own portrayal of an elderly aunt. Macedo and Richey play well off each other, and the awkward humor was a highlight of the evening.
The production was a good entry for the new Lamplight Theatre Company. While the time change had some parts that did not translate well, it was a daring and interesting choice, and I hope that the productions that are mounted moving forward will continue to push boundaries and make for interesting evenings of theatre.