by Allison Mollenkamp
The STAGE Theater’s production of Charley’s Aunt is perfect for a spring night out. It’s fun, colorful, and there are two intermissions –so if you’re inclined to have a glass of wine, there’s ample opportunity. I won’t try to explain the entire plot (I’d exceed my word count before I reviewed anything), but the basic set-up is this: two Yale guys (Charley and Jack) are in love with two girls (Kitty and Amy), and they want to propose. However, the girls are old fashioned and won’t see the guys without a chaperone. Charley has an aunt he’s never met who’s supposed to come to town and can chaperone (yay!) but then she telegraphs at the last minute to say she isn’t coming (boo!). You see why I can’t explain the whole thing? We’re about five minutes in at this point. Anyway, they rope an unwilling accomplice into dressing as an elderly woman and pretending to be Charley’s Aunt.
From there, things only get more complicated. There’s a stingy uncle (Bob Marshall, who makes this villain hard to hate, as it looks like Marshall is having quite a bit of fun), a newly penniless father (David Dudley, who we can’t help but root for in his quest for love (and money)), and a star crossed girl with a dead father (Amanda Schumacher, incredibly sweet and a little mischievous).
The fast-paced plot is helped along by Brasset (Tom Schuerman), Charley and Jack’s butler. Schuerman starts each scene by turning to the audience and catching us up. He makes these scenes feel natural, and his British accent is a nice homage to the show’s original setting of Oxford University. His presence reassures us that despite the American accents, we are squarely in a British farce.
The comedy of the show (and it is very funny, the audience Saturday night was in stitches), rests squarely on the shoulders of Christian Cardona, who plays Lord Fancourt Babberly and, more importantly, Charley’s (fake) aunt. Cardona commits so readily and so delightfully to the physical comedy of the show, to an accent, to a “lady’s” voice for the aunt, and to facial expression after hilarious facial expression, that it is hard to look away.
If you are able to glance away from Cardona for a moment, you will catch a glimpse of Charley (Sam Ninegar) and Jack (Connor Dudley). Ninegar is transformed as Charley, and it’s lovely to watch him squirm as the deception gets more and more out of hand. Dudley (and I realize only now, reading the program, that there are three Dudley’s in this show) handily balances Ninegar, pushing through whatever lies he has to tell to get to a proposal he has been rehearsing since scene one.
The lady loves of the show don’t get as much chance at comedy as you might hope, though perhaps it’s unfair to expect strong female leads in a play that’s 126 years old. Kitty (Chloe Schwarting) and Amy (Amelia Barrett), do seem to have fun torturing their boys, and both do a good job fawning over Charley’s (fake) aunt. Barrett commits and commits hard to a character voice, which adds a laugh where her character isn’t given as many wonderful one-liners as the men. Not to spoil the plot, but one more lady show up, played by Torey Nichols Dudley (see, I told you there were three!), and she too seems to be having a lot of fun. Her torture is meant for Charley’s aunt, and in the play’s final act she is pulling all the strings. It’s a joy to watch.
If you’ve seen any shows at the STAGE, you will not be surprised that the set and costumes for this production are a delight. To say that Robert Wamsley is a wizard would be to do him a disservice, and to leave off credit for the blood, sweat, and tears that must have gone into this set. We start out in a Yale dormitory, that is at once beautiful and lived in. Despite this being a proscenium stage, it feels as if we have been welcomed in, and are sitting just off to the side of every scene. If this were the only set, we could leave content. However, it is not. At both intermissions, the set is completely transformed: first into the gardens outside the dorm, and then into the sitting room of the stingy uncle’s mansion. Each set is beautiful and feels separate from the last. We are in a new space but very much within the same world. The costumes are gorgeous (and I think it’s important to note that this extends not just to the women’s dresses, but to some lovely suits for the men), and my only regret is that there’s not yet a better way to hide a mic pack in a well-tailored dress. (Engineers, get to work on that one!)
The mics were well run by Charlotte Schuerman, and you can tell because you often forget the actors are wearing mics at all. You can hear them, and that’s all that matters. The lights often go unnoticed as well, but if you watch closely there are some lovely choices happening behind the one open window, and maybe it was the air conditioning, but it seemed as if a cool spring breeze blew outside the window as well.
I could write more about how lovely this show is, and if I had time I likely would. Wamsley has directed his cast into some absolutely astounding physical comedy. I was mesmerized by one particular bit with a suitcase full of champagne, and later by a hat full of champagne. This show is, as I mentioned, 126 years old, but it feels young and spry, and it asks of its audience only two things: suspend your disbelief and have fun. And we comply, because at the end of the day, perhaps we wish for a world where our long-lost love turns up in the garden outside our dorm room, where we can wear a velvet evening gown and diamonds to dinner, and where love will always win, even if we do have a stingy uncle.
Take your sweetheart, take your kids, take yourself, and enjoy a spring night out.
If you go: Charley’s Aunt runs just under two and a half hours, with two fifteen-minute intermissions. Remaining performances are May 2 and 3 at 7:30 pm and May 5 at 2:00 pm. The STAGE Theatre is located at 225 Locust Street in Hickman, NE. Tickets are available online, by phone at (402) 512-1808, and at the box office, but some shows are sold out!
Allison Mollenkamp is a reporter and producer for NET News. You may have seen her onstage at the Lincoln Community Playhouse or the STAGE Theater in Hickman. After a lifetime of moving around, she’s happy to find a home in the Lincoln theatre community. You can follow her on twitter @alliemollenkamp.
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