Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The play is set in Victorian-era Oxford and centers on a trio of undergraduates at the college. Jack Chesney and Charles Wykeham are in love with Kitty Verdun and Amy Spettigue, respectively, and have invited them over for lunch in order to propose to them. However, the two know that the girls won't stay without a chaperone, so Charley enlists the help of his aunt, whom he has never met, as she is on her way over from Brazil for a visit. When she telegrams to say she has to delay her trip, Jack and Charley enlist their friend Lord Fancourt Babberley, who is involved with an amateur theatric group and just happens to have an old woman's costume in his case, to dress up and impersonate Charley's aunt. Hijinks immediately ensue due to the mistaken identity. Adding to the hilarity is the fact that Charley's aunt, Donna Lucia d'Alvadorez, is a rich widow whom both Jack's father and Amy's uncle pine after.
Thomas' script has all of the components of classic farce (chases, mistaken identity, split-second timing, incredibly improbable coincidences, and overheard conversations that reveal plot points and character motivation), but it's also infused with an abundance of charm and lovable characters you can root to see succeed. While the play isn't entirely laugh out loud funny, and it takes about 15 minutes for all of the elements to jell and for the plot to kick into high gear, it does have many humorous set ups and comic moments that work really well with a cast that has good timing and sharp line delivery to ensure that both the verbal and physical comedy moments land. Hale has double-cast this show and on the night I attended the Gold cast was performing. They form a seamless comic ensemble and embrace the hilarious hijinks in the script.
Under Jere Van Patten's practically perfect direction, the cast is appropriately silly without ever veering too close to being over-the-top with their portrayals or adding any unnecessary indulgences which could result in a slowing down of the breakneck pace of the play. Also, Van Patten's staging makes good use of the various backstage and lobby entrances, and he lets the comic moments build naturally.
Jeff Deglow delivers a winning performance as Lord Fancourt Babberley (Babbs). He has perfect double-takes and clearly lets us see the conflicted feelings Babbs has in being forced to masquerade as the doting aunt. From Deglow's solid portrayal we understand that, while Babbs has never dressed up as a woman before, he both relishes the chance to play this part and laments the hassle of having to continually ward off the two suitors who won't give him a moment's rest. As the duo of Oxford students whose scheme sets the plot in motion, Brandon Caraco and Ben Emerick, as Jack Chesney and Charles Wykeham, respectively, are very good. Caraco and Emerick's strong performances let us see that Jack is assured and strong while Charley is slightly shy, nervous, and somewhat unsure. The two also play off each other very well, which adds to the fun.
As the two men who woo Charley's aunt, Ben Mason is smart and charming as Jack's father and Zack Diepstraten is an absolute riot as the wound-up, hot-headed Stephen Spettigue. Emily Noxon delivers a warm and playful performance as Charley's real aunt, with a continual wink in her eye once she realizes what Jack, Charley, and Babbs have cooked up. While the three women who play the love interests of Jack, Charley, and Babbs don't get a lot to do, Kelly Hajek, Amanda Valenzuela, and Ariana Mai Lucius derive performances that are subtle, sensible and strong. Brady Anderson rounds out the cast with a dry but humorous portrayal of Jack's put-upon servant Brassett.
Hale's creative aspects are, as usual, top notch. Brian Daily delivers a sumptuous set design, with beautiful period set pieces and a floor gorgeously painted to resemble an outdoor courtyard. Tim Dietlein's lighting is bright and warm. Tia Hawke's costumes are drop-dead gorgeous, with lush gowns with beaded accoutrements and other refined touches for the women, and Cambrian James' wigs and make-up are lush and lovely.
With a cast who beautifully embrace the comedy in the script, perfect direction, and excellent creative aspects, Hale's production of Charley's Aunt is a fun, lighthearted farce with an abundance of charm and wit.
Hale has implemented many safety protocols for this production, in line with both city and state requirements, including limiting the audience capacity, providing socially distanced seating, and requiring masks from all audience members. A list of all safety requirements can be found on their website.
Charley's Aunt runs through March 27, 2021, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling (480) 497-1181
Producers & Casting Directors: David & Corrin Dietlein