The Column Online



By Brandon Thomas

Rover Dramawerks

Director – Lon Barrera
Wig Designer – Logan Coley Broker
Costume Designer – Hope Cox
Board Op – Kenneth Hall
Set Designer – Edgar Hernandez
Sound Designer – Mark Howard
Stage Manager – Nicole Lugar
Lighting Designer – Catherine Luster

Kitty- Kate Beckett
Amy – Haley Evans
Lord Fancourt Babberly – Dakota James
Spettigue – Mark Massey
Ela – Imani O
Charley – Cole Shuffield
Donna Lucia – Sherri Small
Jack – Jake Stephenson
Brasset – Santosh Vijayakumar
Sir Francis- Brandon Williams

Reviewed Performance: 9/15/2018

Reviewed by Kathleen Morgan, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

For about a year of my childhood, my parents were obsessed with P.G. Wodehouse– you know, the author who quipped, “I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.” Although he did not write Charley’s Aunt, he wrote “Life with Jeeves,” and brought to life a daft but charming young British bachelor, along with his sage butler, Jeeves. Rover Dramawerks’ production of Charley’s Aunt brought images of Bertie and Jeeves to mind: British aristocrats, their hijinks, and the butlers who stealthily avert inevitable disaster. The show was fun, fast-paced, and had the audience laughing at every turn!

The audience meets Jack and Charley in the first scene as both young men are attempting to write letters to their sweethearts, Kitty and Amy. As the girls are to embark to Scotland the next day, the young men need to see them quickly, in order to propose before it’s too late. Jack (Jake Stephenson) is the schemer of the two lads, calling the shots and confidently dispensing advice (ill-fated as it may be). Stephenson excelled at playing the part of a young, headstrong spendthrift. He could turn on the charm when the ladies came around, but he was downright boorish when referring to his butler, Brasset. Stephenson overall did well in executing his character, although several times he spoke so quickly that he had to start his line over. Charley (Cole Shuffield) hilariously captured the part of the dutiful friend who is always in a tizzy about one thing or another. Every time he entered a scene, he nearly tumbled out of a doorway, so eager was he to fix the next problem. Shuffield’s portrayal of Charley was delightfully earnest and energetic.

Completely and utterly stealing the show was Lord Fancourt Babberly- affectionately referred to as “Babs” or “the fake Charley’s Aunt,” played by Dakota James. When Jack and Charley find out that Charley’s Aunt (a wealthy widower from Brazil) is coming to visit, they wrangle their ne’er-do-well friend Babs into joining them for lunch, so he can entertain Charley’s Aunt while they pursue the other ladies. In a scene of brilliant comedic timing, Babs withdraws to try on his “women’s clothes” for an upcoming play in which he is performing, when the young ladies arrive. Kitty and Amy are unable to stay without a chaperone, so Charley and Jack quickly corral Babs into assuming the role of “Charley’s Aunt” in order to prevent their dates from leaving. James did not make a single gesture or facial expression that was not carefully thought out to add an element of comedy. He seamlessly and continuously pivoted from the role of a chummy (albeit flirtatious) bachelor to that of one pretending to be a wealthy widow. Although at first the “fake Charley’s Aunt” often tried to take pointers and hints from Jack behind a fluttering fan, Babs quickly grew into his role and started taking more risks and grow more independent of Jack’s wishes with every new scene. Although every part of James’ performance was riveting, nothing made me laugh like his mighty shrieks that he let out whenever Spettigue came to corner “her” for a marriage proposal.

As charming as they were lovely, Kitty (Kate Beckett) and Amy (Haley Evans) were perpetually graceful and composed, unlike their male counterparts. As Jack made a declaration of love to Kitty, Beckett winsomely encouraged Jack’s stammering and could barely hold back her girlish excitement. Evans was particularly sweet during a scene where she told the false Charley’s Aunt about how close she felt to her (the scene being made funny by Bab’s attempts to flirt with her despite this heartfelt confession). However, the girls could not have an engagement to their beaus without the consent of Amy’s Uncle and Kitty’s ward, Spettigue.

As described in the program (sorry, this description was too fitting to not repeat), Spettigue (Mark Massey) was “a cross between Mr. Monopoly and a creepy Mr. Rogers.” Although the first time we see Massey, he is in a perfect rage at the thought that his niece and ward have stolen away with two young men, as soon as he finds out that Charley’s Aunt is the wealthy Donna Lucia, he turns on a dime. This personality shift had the audience doubled over in laughter. Although Massey spends the entirety of the second act chasing Babs (dressed as Charley’s Aunt) around the set, he never for a moment appears fatigued or discouraged. The fact that Massey essentially performed the same actions for a third of the show without tiring and without failing to make the audience erupt in laughter shows his disciplined energy as an actor! The plot thickens when Jack’s father, Sir Francis (Brandon Williams) arrives and announces in the most cheerful way possible that the family is suddenly penniless due to unforeseen debt. Williams’ performance was perpetually upbeat, though he was often soft-spoken and therefore challenging to understand. The quirky positivity of Williams’ portrayal added a fun and stable character in such a chaotic show. When the true Donna Lucia (Charley’s Aunt, played by Sherri Small) arrives, she recognizes Sir Francis at once as “the one who got away” in her youth. Small’s performance was nothing short of riveting. She expertly captured the air of an older woman coquettishly remembering a lost love. Her manner was dignified and sophisticated, yet bashful as the feelings of her youth flooded her memory, which she made a tangible experience for the audience. I would be remiss if I did not applaud Small’s Gibson-Girl style hair with the elegant purple hat that adorned it- both perfectly complemented the elegance of Donna Lucia.

Imani O gave a sweet portrayal of Ela, Donna Lucia’s ward. Prim and proper as her character was, Imani’s reverie was nearly as entrancing as Donna Lucia’s. Imani’s performance gently conveyed the innocence and kindness of Ela, particularly when she insisted on returning gambling money to Babs that he had lost to her father.

Rounding out the show in true British comedic fashion was Jack’s butler, Brasset (Santosh Vijayakumar). Though he was necessarily obedient to his employer, Brasset rarely lost an opportunity to express cheeky sarcasm or egg Jack on during one of his many outbursts. Vijayakumar played a confident, polished Brasset, though I think he could have afforded to be a bit more expressive, to the audience if not to Jack. Nevertheless, Brasset’s presence always added levity to a scene since he was usually on the receiving end of Jack’s ill-fated schemes.

Charley’s Aunt was a play in three acts taking place in three different settings: Jack’s rooms, Jack’s garden, and Spettigue’s home. The set was generally Spartan- a few pieces of furniture for the indoor scenes, a simple trellis for the garden scene- but it provided what the actors needed. The use of lighting and sound was fairly simple and consistent throughout the show as well.

What the set lacked in sparkle, the costumes made up for in polish. Each character was smartly dressed in a late Victorian dress or suit. Charley’s orange vest particularly stood out (in a good way!) against his bright red hair, and Kitty’s green frock and matching hat were both attractive and becoming. Of course, Bab’s fogeyish getup as Charley’s Aunt was the source of much sidesplitting laughter all evening long.

I have to hand it to Director Lon Barrerra- he did an absolutely phenomenal job with Charley’s Aunt. Once the momentum was built, the show didn’t slow down for one second. The physical comedy present in this show was timed and executed so well by every single actor- I didn’t notice a single awkward exchange or dip in the energy. Each player brought his or her unique traits and mannerisms to the show, making it all the more engaging and entertaining. Go see Charley’s Aunt for a night of light-hearted fun, for the beautiful costumes, for the energy and chaos, but most especially for a director and cast that really gets comedy.

Charley’s Aunt
Rover Dramawerks
September 13-29
Thursday, Friday, Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm
Sunday matinee at 3:00 pm
221 W Parker Road, Suite 580, Plano, TX

To purchase tickets, visit box office or the Rover Dramawerks site
Adults - $24
Teachers/Students/Seniors - $20