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‘Eric Jensen’s Charlie’s Aunt’ opens at Off Broadway Theatre

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ERIC JENSEN'S CHARLIE'S AUNT; updated and written by Eric Jensen; directed by Rusty and Sunny Bringhurst; The Off Broadway Theatre, Salt Lake City; now through Sept. 14; running time 2 hours with one intermission.

SALT LAKE CITY — "Eric Jensen's Charlie's Aunt" is produced and hilariously re-written by Eric Jensen, co-founder of the Off Broadway Theatre.

It's also costumed and worked over by Jensen: the sound effects, the props and the set were put together by Jensen. Jensen even sells tickets and concessions.

So the only thing missing on opening night was Jensen, who had collided with a piece of scenery and hurt his head.

Taking his place as Brassett the butler in "Eric Jensen's Charlie's Aunt" was a talented understudy, but you could still see "Jensenisms" throughout this crazy show — bits and lines added just to tweak the story a tiny bit more and make it manic.

Rusty Bringhurst, who is one of the directors and who plays Lord Fancourt Babberley (or more importantly the fake Donna Lucia d'Alvadorez, "Babs") is the highlight pretending to be an old woman trying to escape the attentions of her unlikely suitors and finding herself flattered by the same attentions.

Bringhurst is tremendously versatile as he swings back and forth in gender and personality.

He has a great, expressive face and the ability to change his voice as the situation changes and the stress mounts.

He is also happy to tease the others in the story and the cast when his role takes him to somewhat traditionally uncomfortable terrain.

Taylor Fultz did an interesting job taking over the butler's role at the last minute, pretending to be helpful throughout while tripping, tricking and mocking those running about the household. He's also consistently shocked to walk in on scenes where the two suitors in the story seem to be in clinches.

This play is worth the slightly tedious wait through the first act as the story is set up and the characters have a lot of talking to do.

Then, as soon as "Babs" is in her auntie garb and wig, reluctantly ready to be Charlie's aunt until the real one shows up, the show takes off.

Babs is supposed to chaperone as Jack Chesney (played by Patrick Harris) and Charlie Wykeham (played by Fred Lee) attempt to woo Kitty Verdun (played by Clarissa Armstrong) and Amy Spettigue (played by Cylie Hall), but she is the fox guarding the chickens here.

Then the story gets more complicated with the appearance of Sir Francis Chesney (who includes a wonderful Woody Woodpecker kind of nervous laugh) and Albert Spettigue, who decide Babs is the woman for them.

Then there's a lot of running around, whacking on the head and confusion blessed by some really clever added bits (like the hat being filled with obnoxious things before Spettigue puts it back on and the pie in the face classic).

It isn't a question so much of what's going on here and how it is all going to work out.

It's more a question of how any of the actors keep a straight face and stay in character given all the comic surprises.

If you go:

What: "Eric Jensen's Charlie's Aunt" (followed by Laughing Stock)

Where: The Off Broadway Theatre, 272 S. Main, Salt Lake City

When: Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m., now through Sept. 14 (Laughing Stock at 10 p.m.)

Tickets: $16 adults, $10 children (2-12) (Laughing Stock $11 adult), available at the door or at 801-355-4628.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@deseretnews.com