Charley’s Aunt charms at Taproot

Josh Smyth, Eric Riedmann , Emily Fairbrook and Steve West in Charley’s Aunt at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug

Jack Chesney and his Oxford schoolmate Charles Wykeham have a problem: they’re in love. Jack (Eric Reidmann) longs for the love of the charming Kitty Verdun (Anne Kennedy) while Charley (Josh Smyth) pines for pretty Amy Spettigue (Emily Fairbrook). Standing in their way is the complicated etiquette of Victorian England’s middle class morality – they can’t even invite the young ladies to lunch without a proper chaperon in attendance. Hope rises when the millionaire aunt supporting his education telegraphs Charley to announce her imminent arrival. Hope falls when a second telegram announces her cancellation.

What are the lovelorn lads to do? Why, convince their pal Lord Fancourt Babberly (Steve West) to put on the costume he bought for his theatrical group and impersonate the aunt no one’s ever seen, of course. Thus begins a madcap afternoon of mistaken identity, romantic confusion and the riotously funny results of well-intentioned lies in Charley’s Aunt, now playing at Taproot Theater.

Lord Fancourt – “Babbs”, to his pals – makes a spectacularly awful Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez, the widow from Brazil, “where the nuts come from”, but people see what they want to see to great comic effect.

Jack’s father, Sir Francis (Andrew Litzky), finds “Donna Lucia” appalling, but attempts to woo her for the sake of his son who will be forced to work for a living after graduation since their family title comes with no money attached. Misses Verdun and Spettigue seem far more interested in fussing over Charley’s “aunt” than being wooed by their would-be suitors, much to Babbs’ delight and his friends’ great dismay. Stern Stephen Spettigue (Nolan Palmer), uncle of Amy and guardian of Kitty, first disdains then desires “Donna Lucia”. Just when it seems things can’t possibly get any more out of hand, the real Donna Lucia (Llysa Holland) arrives with a young woman (Samie Dietzer) who has a history tied to more than one “Charley’s Aunt”.

First performed in 1892, Charley’s Aunt delighted its early audiences with its gentle satire of stuffy manners; while modern theatergoers will find the antiquated ettiquette even more ridiculous, the romantic comedy has aged very well by being at its heart a simple spoof of the silly lengths people to go for the sake of love, a theme that never really gets old. Director Karen Lund keeps the three-act play moving at an energetic pace and, as always, the Taproot production staff does an excellent job of transforming a simple stage into a thoroughly convincing set.

Among the cast, Steve West deserves special praise for making Charley’s false aunt so convincingly unconvincing. Don Brady is delightful as Jack’s put upon valet Brassett whose disbelieving asides at the madness going around him are uniformly amusing.

Charley’s Aunt continues at Taproot Theater through June 12. Tickets available in person at the box office, over the phone at 206.781.9707 or online.

As a special bonus, Taproot Improv Comedy returns to the stage on Friday nights following mainstage performances. Tickets are $10 or $8 with a ticket to Charley’s Aunt.

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