Charley’s Aunt

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Comedy 101: Men dressed as women = funny.

Brandon Thomas’s classic play “Charley’s Aunt” makes abundant use of that fact, and the Hale Center Theater Orem production of it takes an already-solid script and uses some talented actors to make it even better — the funniest show this theater has done in two years.

(The show is double-cast. This review refers to the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday cast.)

It’s 1892 and we’re at Oxford University. This is a time when young ladies do not associate with young gentlemen unless there’s a chaperone present.

Jack (Nathan Keith), wishing to woo Kitty (Clair Wilkins), is delighted to learn that his friend Charley (Ryan Radebaugh) has a long-lost wealthy aunt coming to visit. Since Charley wants to see a girl, too (Amy, played by Bonnie Beus), they invite both girls over, using Charley’s soon-to-arrive Aunt Donna Lucia as an excuse.

The aunt fails to show, though, and the girls are in danger of leaving. The solution? A third friend, Lord Fancourt Babs (Curt Doussett) is an actor and about to play a woman in a local production. Dress him up like an old lady, and there’s your chaperone!

Complications arise when the REAL Donna Lucia (Nancy Douglas) shows up, and when both Amy and Kitty’s guardian (Karl Young) AND Jack’s father (Spencer Anderson) start to woo the fake Donna Lucia.

This is a silly play full of silly premises, but these performers make it work. There’s hardly a slow moment in the show. In particular, Doussett is hysterical as Charley’s fake aunt. Looking much like Whistler’s mother, his character, Babs, alternates between playing the part with great enthusiasm (especially when the pretty young ladies take him into their confidence), and being thoroughly fed up with it.

The scene in which he has taken off his woman clothes and Jack and Charley must re-dress him is priceless. Doussett seems fond of ad-libbing, and his performance throughout the play is breathlessly energetic and convincing, without getting over-the-top.

Keith and Radebaugh as Jack and Charley make a good duo, too, acting their parts well but adding just a little 1990s-style comaraderie that makes their college antics seem relatable to a modern audience.

That rare breed: the 1940s-written comedy that's actually funny. I saw this on a double date, and man, I'm sure glad it was good. Egg on my face big-time if it had sucked.

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