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Weathervane’s ‘Charley’s Aunt’ ‘is near perfection’

4/11/2013 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Comedy ‘establishes new high quality for Weathervane’

Scott Shriner (Jack) and Tara Kodosky (Kitty) share a scene in Weathervane Playhouse’s production of “Charley’s Aunt.”
Photo courtesy of Weathervane Playhouse
MERRIMAN VALLEY — “Charley’s Aunt” has been successful on the stage and in the movies since its premiere in England in 1892. 

Fortunately, local theater-goers are in for a treat. Weathervane Playhouse’s production of “Charley’s Aunt” is near perfection.

Brandon Thomas wrote a script that has maintained audience popularity for more than 100 years, in part because of his sound work. Thomas constructed this comedy of manners in three acts. The plot is simple — Jack Chesney (Scott Shriner) and Charles Wykeham (Dan Sekanic) have fallen in love with Amy Spettigue (Erin Moore) and Kitty Verdun (Tara Kodosky). In late 19th-century stories, often men see women and suffer from love at first sight, and the women love the men just as quickly.

Jack and Charles want to invite the two women to lunch in Jack’s rooms at Oxford University, but they must have an appropriate chaperone. Charles’ aunt, Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez (Dede Klein), is scheduled to arrive from Brazil for a visit with Charles. The men think she will be the perfect chaperone.

Unfortunately, she is late. The men convince their friend Lord Fancourt Babberly (Daniel Rylander) to dress in a woman’s attire and pretend to be the aunt from Brazil to provide the required chaperone.

Stephen Spettigue (Timothy Champion) and Col. Sir Francis Chesney (Henry Bishop) fall in love with Donna Lucia at first sight. Both men are in financial straights and rumor has it she’s worth more than a million dollars, and this is before the invention of income taxes. Her wealth makes her all the more appealing.

This cast seems perfect, without one weak link. Shriner and Sekanic make the silliness of the plot seem rock solid and appropriate. Champion and Bishop make the sub-plot of two middle-aged men falling in love with the heiress believable — both men need money in order to keep up appearances. Rylander has to be a clown under all of his costumes. He seems to have a body made of rubber that can fall, twist and do physically impossible stunts as the caring chaperone. 

This plot seems to be the forerunner of the movie “Some Like It Hot.”

The chaperone plot line may seem silly today. But, in Thomas’ era, a woman’s reputation could be destroyed if she didn’t have an appropriate chaperone.

The production establishes a new high quality for Weathervane. Scenic Designer Alan Scott Ferrall and an army of volunteers created three large elaborate sets for this production. These sets are historically accurate for late 19th-century England.

Costume designer Jasen Smith designed all of the clothing worn on the stage. As the play progresses, the women wear more and more elegant and elaborate gowns. He designed and built the hats and hair ornaments for the women. By the third act, some of the elegant, ornate costumes received gasps when actresses made their entrances. Smith is at the peak of his powers with these costumes. 

The production is a success because of the firm directorial hand of Nancy Cates. She makes the late 19th-century social standards seem appropriate and believable. In addition, she has the ability to get wild physical comedy from her performers. At certain moments in the show, it was almost impossible for the cast to move forward because the audience was laughing so loud. Some of the stage nonsense is believable because the audience trusts the playwright, the actors and, of course, the director.

Don’t miss this production.

“Charley’s Aunt” plays through April 21. For ticket information, call 330-836-2626.

 

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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