"CHARLEY'S AUNT," Utah Shakespeare Festival, through Oct. 31, Randall L. Jones Theatre, 351 W. Center St., Cedar City (800-752-9849 or bard.org)
CEDAR CITY, Utah — Audiences seeing a farce expect to find themselves laughing, and those who see the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of Brandon Thomas’ “Charley’s Aunt,” directed by David Ivers, have nothing to worry about on that front.
Oxford University students Jack Chesney (Brendan Marshall-Rashid) and Charley Wykeham (Tasso Feldman) desperately want to declare their loves and intentions to young ladies who’ve captured their hearts, but they lack an opportunity to do so without a chaperone. An upcoming visit from Charley’s millionaire aunt looks at though it will provide the chance, but the plans are compromised when the aunt sends word that she’s been delayed on her way from Brazil.
Fortunately, the boys’ friend Lord Fancourt Babberley — “Babbs” (Michael Doherty) — has a flair for the dramatic and happens to be playing an old woman in an upcoming theatrical, and he has his costume on hand. Jack and Charley compel Babbs to pretend to be Charley’s aunt, but the charade quickly grows more complicated than they imagined as more people are drawn into it — including Jack’s father (John G. Preston), the girls’ guardian (John Pribyl) and the real aunt, Donna Lucia d' Alvadorez herself (Christine Jugueta).
Once the opening scenes get the story started, “Charley’s Aunt” sprints headlong into hilarity.
Doherty commands the show as Babbs, whose affable and mischievous nature is magnified as he takes on the role of the aunt first reluctantly and then with relish. Doherty harvests every ounce of humor through his expressions, comedic timing and changes in his body language and speech — such as when he lowers his voice several registers while disguised to deliver some of his funniest lines.
Preston and Pribyl ham it up as the false aunt’s would-be suitors, especially Pribyl’s Stephen Spettigue as he literally chases after the disguised Babbs. Marshall-Rashid is perfectly pleasant as Jack, and Betsy Mugavero sweetly fills the role of his love interest, Kitty Verdun. Feldman is funny as the extremely anxious Charley, and his performance is neatly counterbalanced by Kelly Rogers as the intense and slightly obtuse Amy Spettigue.
Perhaps owing the to the tour de force that is Doherty’s Babbs as the false aunt, Jugueta is initially a bit bland as the real Donna Lucia, but her performance satisfies by the end.
Rounding out the cast is Andy Baldeschwiler as Jack’s delightfully droll manservant, Brassett, and Allie Babich as Babbs’ old flame Ela Delahay.
Jack Magaw′s sets are neat and bright, from Jack’s flat with its charming blue walls adored by framed black-and-white photographs, to the picturesque garden where so many pursuits — and proposals — take place.
Bill Black’s costume design has everyone smartly dressed from head to toe for the show’s late-19th-century setting — except for Babbs’ dress when he’s playing the false aunt, which is appropriately hideous. Jack’s cream-colored suit and Kitty’s matching dress, both with pink accents, are especially lovely.
Farces can take different approaches to funniness, and this production seems to maximize the slapstick. A few of the jokes in the opening performance fell short, momentarily tripping up the show’s momentum, but most hit the mark and kept the audience laughing nearly nonstop.
“Charley’s Aunt” is the only summer show that will continue into the fall season, and of the festival's offerings, it’s the one most likely to appeal to the whole family.
Content advisory: Slapstick violence, alcohol consumption and smoking.