CHARLEY’S AUNT – Written by Brandon Thomas; Directed by Staci York. Produced by Coal Creek Theatre of Louisville (801 Grant Street, Louisville) through March 9. Tickets available at 303-665-0955 or at 

You must give credit to a small theatre that isn’t afraid to tackle a classic older script that gives the audience a look at a show they may have heard of but never seen. This was the personal magnet that drew me to Louisville recently. The chance to see a classic costume production of a rarely done farce of the old school variety. 

Brandon Thomas’ script was first produced in London in 1892 following several try-outs in the provinces. The first major production was a screaming success, playing over 1400 performances in London and quickly spread to theatres large and small all over the country. Thomas himself was a fairly successful actor, making a living out of playing elderly gentlemen characters in performances all over England. But CHARLEY’S AUNT was his money maker. And it’s still cranking out royalties for his estate. 

Coal Creek’s version strained their small playing space by demanding multiple settings including an outdoor garden. But, as usual, the creative scenic designers – Staci York and Jaccie Kitts – with the dedicated volunteer build crew got the job done. Two separate rooms in a mansion and an extensive outdoor space bloomed forth in the gem of a theatre “where every seat is a front row seat.” 

While the language demands of the script proved a little daunting at first, as the evening progressed, the words and attitudes became more natural and relaxed. While the setting is an English college, accents were spotty but unnecessary for the enjoyment of the story. In typical farcical situations, the first half hour needs to be devoted to exposition, explaining relationships, and introducing the culture into which you have wandered. For instance, the absolute necessity of having a female chaperone present when unmarried but romantically inclined couples converge. Hence, explaining why a reasonably intellligent man with his own agenda would agree to don a female costume and pretend to be “Charley’s Aunt” from far off Brazil “where the nuts come from.” 

Although I can’t imagine the same sort of situation developed too many times during that restrictive era, it seems perfectly logical when presented on stage to comic effect. The script has witty dialogue, provides hide-and-seek opportunities for most of the characters, gets laughs from a man trying to fool woman, is slightly romantic in an innocent vein, and is a showcase for the poor lad stuck in lady’s garb. 

Which, in this case, was the feisty Markus Rodriguez-Intulaksana who took the part and ran with it. The stilted language was smoothed out in his version with just the right amount of incredulity and reluctance which morphed into enthusiasm when he began to see advantages for himself. Being pursued by two older gold-diggers (played by local favorite Wade Livingston and Jay Moretz) gave him occasions to revel in the physical comedy of the role as well. The suitors think they are both going to win the love of a rich dowager who will take care of them for the rest of their lives. “Babs” pals Jack and Charley were played by Paul Carrasco and JC Reyes, both making their return to theatre in this production. All the stuffy Victorian characters were mildly ridiculed by the all-seeing butler/aide de camp/chef brought to comic life by Judd Miller who does butler well. 

The two maidens in pursuit and being pursued are Beth Crosby as Kitty and Melissa Baker as Amy. Two late but crucial entries onto the scene are Marcy Rodney in a lovely, understated performance as the real Aunt and Jo Niederhoff as her travelling companion. Their arrivals allow for the nice well-rounded happy ending required of a farce, while stretching the bounds of coincidence. 

I strongly recommend the work being done by the smaller theatres in our theatrical community. Coal Creek turns out creative imaginative productions of both old and new scripts. They encourage new and local playwrights; they have created a volunteer team that work as hard as paid carpenters and costumers to get their show on its feet: the actors rehearse as long or longer as paid actors with their only reward being the sheer joy of performing. While their productions may not achieve the slick look of the professionals, they are nevertheless filled with heart and authentic emotion. While the overall quality may be inconsistent, I guarantee that in each production you will find heartfelt performers and moments of truth. Begin including small theatres on your calendar. If you need a list, let me know! 

A WOW factor of 8!! 

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