In the play, Oxford college friends Jack Chesney (Brendan Marshall-Rashid) and Charley Wykeham (Tasso Feldman) have each fallen in love. As they plot to get their two love interests alone – Jack with Kitty Verdun, the ward of the Oxford solicitor, and Charley with Amy Spettigue, the solicitor’s niece – they enlist the help of their flamboyant and clever friend, Lord Fancourt of Babberley, otherwise known as Babbs.
In an effort to entice the women to spend time with them so they can declare their desire to wed, they invite them to attend a luncheon with Charley’s famous aunt who is coming to visit. When the aunt does not show up in time for the luncheon, Babbs (Michael Doherty) is wrangled into dressing up as an old woman and impersonating Charley’s aunt. When Jack’s father Col. Sir Francis Chesney (John G. Preston), Mr. Spettigue, (John Pribyl), Charley’s actual aunt and Babbs’ long lost love all start to show up, a simple luncheon becomes a complicated comedic circus.
“They come with a bang. They go with a bang. They do everything with a bang,” says Charley’s witty and charming valet Brassett (Andy Baldeschwiler). He is referring to the energetic mayhem with which Jack and Charley approach every moment of their love scheme.
Marshall-Rashid embraces his energetic character completely while resisting the temptation to act like a lovesick schoolboy. Instead he moved forward as a young man with a mission. He completely threw himself into this role with energy and passion. Tasso also plays his role well of a young man in love who is willing to do whatever it takes.
Babbs, a.k.a. “Charley’s Aunt,” is absolutely hysterical and Doherty’s gift for theatrical comedy kept the audience laughing for two and a half hours. There is no limit to his ability to pull a new unexpected facial expression, pose or gesture that contributes to the story. Whether he is wielding a ladies fan to hide or knock off Mr. Spettigue’s hat, crawling under a piano to hide or crawling out a window to run away, his comic timing relies on the element of surprise. His responses were sometimes so unexpected they left me thinking “What?!!!” right before I burst into laughter.
USF’s “Charley’s Aunt” is a full cast of hilarious actors who added their own humorous touches to each of their characters. Each one of them had me thinking at moments that they were my favorite character in the play. Although, for supporting actors I have to say I fell in love with Baldeschwiler’s portrayal of the valet Brassett and Preston’s portrayal of Col. Sir Francis Chesney. Brassett’s smooth and tongue-in-cheek British valet brought subtle moments of humor among all the bang and crash of this very physically funny play while Preston’s Colonel was both lovable and ridiculously awkward.
The women in this play held their own by bringing four very distinct characters to this mix. Christine Jugueta played a formidable Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez, Allie Babich a sweet Ela Delahay (Babbs’s love interest), Betsy Mugavero a spirited Kitty and Kelly Rogers a slightly socially awkward Amy Spettigue.
The three elaborate sets used during the play added another layer of enjoyment as the audience is able to watch the comic hijinks move from an Oxford living space for the rich and famous to an ancient courtyard and finally the stuffy but elegant home of Mr. Spettigue. Scenic designer Jack Magaw spent a great deal of effort on creating beautiful details.
Bravo to the cast, director David Ivers and the artistic staff for bringing a comedic success to the stages of USF this season. If you have not had the chance to see the play, don’t miss it. Save the best laugh for last.
On a side note: I would consider this a family friendly play.