OREM — Charley’s Aunt is an amusing classic written by Brandon Thomas, first appearing in 1892. Standing the test of time and creating laughs generation after generation, Charley’s Aunt is one of my favorite comedies. Hale Center Theater Orem executes a traditional rendition of the show that is thoroughly adequate while offering chortling entertainment.
In the play, Jack and Charley need a chaperone in order to have their hearts’ desires, Amy and Kitty, court them at the dormitory. Charley’s aunt is due in from Brazil (“where the nuts come from”), but she does not arrive when expected and sends apologies for a delayed appearance. Fancourt Babberly, Jack and Charley’s friend, is convinced to pretend to be Charley’s aunt. From this point on, silly confusion and hilarity ensue.
Set in 1885, Charley’s Aunt opens with a proper dorm house living room. The opening set (designed by Bobby Swenson) touts Victorian windows, antique looking bookcases and furniture, and is strewn with different articles of clothing (as would be expected in a men’s dorm room). The polished set design continues to entice in both Acts II and III with an enchanting garden and formal sitting room complete with piano.
Visually, I was consistently pleased because the costume design (by Tami Crandall) boasted the same accomplished aesthetic as the set design. Jack and Charley were dashingly dressed in bright pinstripe suits accessorized with bow ties and white pants, showing their youth and energy. Amy and Kitty also had beautifully colored dresses that were fully gathered in the back. All cast members looked time-period fantastic in the dinner party scenes with swanky accessories, posh dresses and tuxedos, and classy dinner gloves.
Director Rodger Sorenson leads this farce. The theatre in the round staging of Charley’s Aunt proved to be my only complaint. In a play like this, most of the comedy stems from the hilarious expressions and reactions to those which come from the classic Fancourt character, and there were too many occurrences where I was unable to see the conversation taking place. I was disappointed to be viewing the back of two heads in what could have been an amusing delight. Yet, there were many times the cast engaged the audience, with a hilarious payoff. In one such occurrence, an actor borrows a playbill from an audience member to fan himself, and I enjoyed bits like this.
Appropriately, Dylan Wright as Lord Fancourt Babberly is the star of the show and brought his role to life. “Babbs” is such a lovable character, and he gives a splendid portrayal. Wright was truly funny from his feigned haughtiness to his menacing smiles and his mischievous flirting waves to the audience. He was so mirthfully captivating that I was disappointed when his character was absent from a scene.
In addition to Wright’s outstanding performance, Ben Parkes as Stephen Spettigue, had a strong showing. Parkes had humorous mannerisms and an exaggerated accent that came together splendidly. The scenes containing both Parkes and Wright were fantastic in the way the two actors played off each other with a genuine comedic chemistry. The funniest parts of the play were the scenes involving Spettigue pursuing whom he perceived to be a rich widow, who is in reality Fancourt Babberley dressed as a woman.
As pleasing as I found Parkes and Wright, I did not share the same sentiment for the entire cast. I found Dallin Bradford as Jack Chesney and Adam Packard as Charles Wykeham to be a bit unsatisfying. Charley’s Aunt is an expressive, silly, exaggerated, over-the-top script, and their depictions of Jack and Charley fell short of the comedy gold potential. I would have liked to have seen some more angst when they were not making progress in their relationship with Amy and Kitty, and I longed for the men to push further in their desperation for Babbs to become Charley’s aunt.
Although I can find some criticisms of HCTO’s Charley’s Aunt, overall it is a production worth seeing. Thomas’s script is so strong that the director, designers, and cast at Hale Center Theater Orem were practically guaranteed an enjoyable production. While there are some flaws, this is a fine production that all audiences can enjoy, including children, considering all the silly humor involved.