SALT LAKE CITY — The Off Broadway Theatre provides a night of good old-fashioned fun and slapstick humor in their newest production, Eric Jensen’s Charlie’s Aunt. Set in England during the 1890’s, the show is a humorous adaptation of Brandon Thomas’ play Charley’s Aunt, which was written and takes place during an era when the custom of courting was much different, requiring the presence of a chaperone.
Two college students, Charlie Wykeham (Chris Kennedy) and his roommate, Jack Chesney (Patrick Harris), invite the women of their dreams over for a romantic afternoon in which they plan to declare their love, under the supervision of Charlie’s Aunt, of course. When her train is delayed, however, the pair are forced to find an alternative if they are going to propose before their lady friends leave town. After a bit of convincing, their friend, Lord Fancourt Babberly “Babs,” agrees to play the part of the wealthy chaperone. Donning a black dress, along with a shawl and a wig, Babs easily fools the two young ladies into thinking he is the watchful guardian. Things are going well until, under the mistaken identity of the millionairess, “Charlie’s Aunt” gets a few gentleman callers of his own, ensuing in a riotous kerfuffle.
Heather Nightlinger plays the part of Kitty Verdun, the apple of Jack’s eye and the companion of Amy Spettigue (Liz Pascoe), who has won the affections of Charlie. While they both look and act the part of a lady of the time, their performance takes a back seat as the action centers on the men and their wild predicaments. Rusty Bringhurst does a bang-up job as both Babs and the Charlie’s Aunt imposter. The show seems rather dull until he enters the stage. His accent, impersonation and facial expressions were unexpectedly hilarious and left me breathless from laughter. He does such a good job, in fact, that he is single cast and plays the part in every performance.
Eric Jensen not only adapted the play but starred in it as well, playing the overworked and very exasperated butler, Brassett. Each time he enters the stage, he brings with him a roll of laughter from the audience as he helps to save Charlie’s “Aunt” from his persistent suitors. Jensen also includes several little known words of the era into the script, giving you a chance to brush up on your “British.”
No details escape the costume designers (Janice Jensen and Eric Jensen) or the set designers (Eric Jensen and Frank Ackerman). From the matching hats and lacy dresses to the sock garters, the costumes reflect the style of the day. The furniture also takes you back with its old fashioned chairs, frames and tea sets. The whole environment puts you in the mood for a smashing good time. Not only do the music, costumes and set reflect the time period, but the theatre itself takes you back to the day. Red curtains hang over the stage and line the walls of the vintage theatre.
The show had rather a lot of risqué implications, but it all turned out to be an innocent bit of good fun. While most of the puns were aimed at adults, the children in the audience seemed to get just as much enjoyment out of the show, especially while watching Charlie’s Aunt on the run from his suitors.
I have never seen the original, Charley’s Aunt, so I cannot compare the two, but I must say I was rather surprised at how lively this version turned out. The director, Jeff Driggs, used every opportunity to make ‘em laugh. He focused not only on the script, but the deliverance, body language and expressions of each actor to milk every line for all the laughter it was worth. In his notes, Driggs tells the audience to “sit back and enjoy a classic with the added Jensen zing.” What he fails to mention, however, is that instead of sitting back, you will be doubled over laughing.
So, is Charlie’s Aunt worth seeing, you ask? Quite.