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Charley’s Aunt

a Comedy
by Brandon Thomas

COMPANY : Georgia Ensemble Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Georgia Ensemble Theatre and Conservatory [WEBSITE]
ID# 4833

SHOWING : January 07, 2016 - January 24, 2016



Hilarious comic farce and... CROSS-DRESSING!

The perfect cure for the post-holiday doldrums. Jack loves Kitty, and Charley loves Amy. But things are about to get complicated, and it requires a young fellow donning bloomers and a corset. You’ll laugh yourself silly at this outrageous romp filled with comic confusion and mistaken identities.

Director David Crowe
Lord Fancourt Babberly Hugh Adams
Colonel Sir Francis Chesney Scott E. DePoy
Ela Delahay Stephanie Friedman
Kitty Verdun Rachel Garner
Brassett Charles Green
Stephen Spettigue Steven L. Hudson
Amy Spettigue Angelica Spence
Jack Chesney J. Joe Sykes
Charles Wykeham William Webber
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by playgoer
Friday, January 8, 2016
"Charley’s Aunt" has been a beloved comedy for well over a hundred years. But David Crowe and his design team have apparently decided that it needs gussying up. Let’s throw in a sly reference to "West Side Story!" Let’s make a reference to 60’s music when choosing a selection of piano music, and let’s go even further by using that period’s music for all the musical interludes! Let’s pump up the 1890’s costume color scheme with 1960’s influences! As to why this has been done, the answer can only be to put an indelible director’s stamp on the production at the expense of the material.

This is not a very good-looking production. Seamus M. Bourne’s three sets (one for each act) place furniture in front of the closed curtains, which are then drawn open as the act starts to reveal drably uninteresting upstage walls. The whole thing is fronted by a crudely drawn hewn stone effect at the lip of the stage. The first act is done mostly in stained plywood (a cheap-looking facsimile of wood paneling); the second act uses green panels that seem to be covered in plush carpeting to represent greenery, adding a lovely iron gate in an inappropriate blue hue; the third act uses a spare, Mod-ish architectural style. Bryan Rosengrant’s lighting scheme seems to do its job, although there may be a slight foliage effect in the second act that comes across more as a couple of poorly-lit areas center stage.

Emmie Childers’ costume design matches the set design in terms of being generally unattractive. The color scheme doesn’t seem to have any cohesiveness, drawing attention to the 1960’s touches that are sprinkled about with no apparent pattern. The biggest distraction, though, is Joanna Daniel’s bustle, which had the people in front of me in the audience tittering and whispering throughout her initial scene.

Maclare "MC" Park’s props are good, although a hookah used in the first act is totally extraneous and draws attention only in an extended room straightening sequence that falls flat. Jason Polhemus’ sound design for this sequence is the first jarring instance of non-1890’s music, with the last instance being after the last line of the play. It managed to turn a smile on my face to a frown of disgust as the show ended. Perhaps the inspiration was Benny Hill’s TV shows, but the inspiration is so diluted by the performances and other design elements that it does less than not work; it substantially detracts from the production.

Performances are about as much of a jumble as the design elements are. Joe Syke’s performance as Jack starts the show and dominates the first act, and it is deadly. His artificial energy has no sincerity and is totally charmless. William Webber is far better as Charley, showing a sensitivity and giddiness in love that gets the audience on his side right away. The only really spot-on performance, though, comes from Stephanie Friedman as Ela Delahay, who takes the stage in winsome, unforgettable fashion and tugs gently at the heartstrings throughout.

Other members of the cast have their moments, but David Crowe’s direction overuses direct address to the audience, which I found only Scott DePoy could make work. Otherwise, the addresses tend to disrupt the action. Most of the actors play their roles relatively straight, without the quirks and charm that can make a comedy like this sparkle. The lack of a firm directorial touch (which is far different from an obvious directorial stamp) seems to have left the cast a bit adrift or left to their own devices.

Brandon Thomas’ script centers on three college friends, who presumably would be much of an age. Here, we have an age-appropriate Charley, a thirtyish Jack, and a Fancourt Babberly who appears to be middle-aged. It throws off the dynamic of the piece, although Hugh Adams’ doughy look makes his disguise as an old lady fairly believable. Mr. Adams has a lot of physical comedy bits, and they work, by and large (especially his being trapped in a chair when attempting to curtsey). The physical shtick of the production is probably its most successful element (although the tea-in-a-hat bit was perhaps the least inspired version I’ve ever seen). The show only takes off when Mr. Adams shows up in his old-lady disguise, and he carries the show, as sorry as it turns out to be.

My judgments are based on the final preview performance. Things may change on or after opening night, but the basic concepts of the production are so deficient that it’s difficult to conceive that Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s "Charley’s Aunt" will rise to the level of adequate entertainment. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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