Thursday, February 21, 2013
Theater review: Onstage in Bedford pulls out a good ol’ English farce with Charley’s Aunt
There are some issues, but ultimately it's a funny romp.
BEDFORD Charley's Aunt is a farce in three acts written by Brandon Thomas. It broke all historic records for plays of any kind, with an original London run of 1,466 performances.
The play was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St. Edmunds in February 1892, was a success, and then opened in London at the Royalty Theatre in December 1892. It quickly transferred to the larger Globe Theatre in January 1893 to complete its record-breaking run. The play was then a success on Broadway in 1893, where it had another long run. It has toured internationally, is a perennial favorite of community theatres, and has been revived continually and adapted for films and musicals.
Comic confusion reigns supreme in this English farce when Jack Chesney and Charley Wykeham, two undergraduates at Oxford University, are in love - Jack with Kitty Verdun, ward of Stephen Spettigue the Oxford solicitor, and Charley with Amy Spettigue, the solicitor’s niece. However, neither man knows quite how to express his love and his (hopeful) plans for the future to his girl — until Jack comes up with a plan: It just so happens that Charley’s aunt, a wealthy widow from Brazil (“where the nuts come from”) is visiting that very day. So, why not have a luncheon for the girls and Charley’s aunt? Surely during the afternoon each boy could sneak a few moments alone with his girl to express his sentiments. Charley has reservations, but finally consents (partly because he knows old Spettigue is out of town for the day), and the invitations are sent to the girls via Brassett, Jack’s college scout. From that moment on, nothing reigns normal or even close to sane in this comedic story.
ONSTAGE in Bedford generally entertains with its presentation of this English farce, hosting some standout performers, but does have some difficulty with the overall execution. The theatre at ONSTAGE is a very intimate space, laid out comfortably.Upon entering you are presented with a lovely designed stage. Multiple locations are represented on a fixed set designed by David Ruffin and Robert Dennard. Striking wall color, accessories and backgrounds suggesting the time period are well chosen. Wonderful details like the arched relief for the upstage exits and detailed floor work are impressive and very eye-catching. It did take me a bit of time into the show to discern the actual locations and their purpose, but eventually I started to follow the design principals and they generally support the production well.
Julie Molina’s costume design is extraordinary! The time period is very well represented on every performer and attention to detail, especially for the women, is exquisite. Elaborate dresses, hats and accessories for the ladies are perfect and the gentlemen each have a perfectly chosen style of the period. Even the men’s variations of hats that are chosen work very well. Ms. Molina obviously spent a great deal of time on her designs and it definitely shows!
The original play is written in three acts; ONSTAGE, however, has chosen to perform it in two. Doing so, in my opinion, doesn’t allow the audience to “digest” certain aspects needed for comedy that the original breaks provide. Patrons need a bit more time than a scene change to follow the fast-paced story line that is presented in this production. Another issue is with the accents. This story would work without the accents, but the decision to have so many varied and sometimes badly delivered ones is very distracting. A few of the performers have excellent accents; unfortunately all that does is draw attention to the others’ weaknesses even more.
An English comedy/face requires impeccable and well executed timing of line delivery. This is not an easy task and takes a lot of rehearsal to get perfect. There seemed to be difficulties and delays with lines, entrances and the actor’s general security in the scene action early in the production. It did get better as time went on and as this was opening weekend, maybe it was just a few jitters. The cast does show they can handle the comedy and timing in some scenes, so with more runs I’m sure it will improve.
As I mentioned earlier, there is some wonderful talent in this production. It boasts a seasoned cast that is very appropriate and definitely required for this script. As an ensemble, they are cohesive and present an entertaining performance, but I have to mention some superb standouts.
Jack Chesney, played by Michael Alger, does an excellent job of carrying his role throughout the performance. He is one of the actors that doesn’t use an accent and it doesn’t matter one bit to the overall presentation! His deliberate character choices and wonderful reactions are a pleasure to watch on stage. You are always involved with Mr. Alger’s character and always entertained.
Nic McMinn as Charles (Charlie) Wykeham is brilliant in this role! He is perfectly cast in this production and just shines on stage. You follow his character throughout the performance, never wavering from his portrayal and the audience is always intrigued by his talents. Every scene is executed with style and deliberate meaning. Mr. McMinn has great stage presence and is a true pleasure to watch on stage!!
Kitty Verdun, played by Jennifer Fortson, is simply marvelous in her role. Her poise, presentation and timing are spot on and she never falters. She plays the role with elegance and a bit of sassiness that really makes her shine. Ms. Fortson commands the stage when she enters, yet never overpowers her fellow cast. Congratulations on a job very well done!
Wendy Savarese, playing Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez, is stunning in the show. Her choices in character, demure and responsive, are perfect every time and keep you fully engaged. The role is wonderfully juicy, and though it could wind up being overplayed, Ms. Savarese keeps it right where it should be with true talent and perfection. Some of the biggest laughs from the audience are from her facial expressions and reaction to line deliveries from the other characters. Excellent job…Brava!!
You will be entertained with the production, and I believe some of the issues will work themselves out as time goes on. If you’re a lover of a good ol’ English farce, then ONSTAGE in Bedford’s presentation of Charley’s Aunt will leave you satisfied.
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