“Charley’s Aunt” offers up comedic delight at Whidbey Playhouse

— Created June 1, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Jack loves Kitty. Charley loves Amy. They long to propose to the women they love, but alas, there is no one who can properly chaperone the young ladies, as Charley’s aunt – a wealthy widow from Brazil – is unavailable. Enter Lord Fancourt Babberly, or “Babbs,” a friend to Jack and Charley. Jack and Charley somehow convince their college chum to impersonate Charley’s aunt, Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez. Meanwhile, Babbs is in love with Ela, the adopted niece of Donna Lucia. And Ela loves Babbs, despite the fact they have not seen each other in years.

This is only part of the tangled web of love interests on display in the Whidbey Playhouse production of the comedy “Charley’s Aunt,” opening Friday at 7:30 p.m. and running through Sunday, June 19.

The play, written by Brandon Thomas, takes place in England in the 1890s, when rules of etiquette and propriety were strictly observed to protect the reputation and honor of young women. The over-the-top lengths to which these characters are willing to go to declare their love were funny then and are still funny today.

“It’s a funny play. It’s all farce,” said director David Frazer. “Once you get past all the humor and all that, it’s all about love and how many indignities and how far would you go to find happiness in your life? It really spoke to me from the very beginning, because it’s such a simple play and yet it’s so funny. I love it.”

While the play was written 130 years ago, Frazer said he believes audiences will still find plenty with which to identify.

“Wanting love and proposing to your girls and working through your problems with them to try to come to an understanding still speaks today,” he said. “Love is love, doesn’t matter if it’s the 1890s or 2022.”

Frazer said the biggest challenge for this cast of 10 was having to shut rehearsals down for a week due to COVID. The next biggest challenge was to keep the cast from cracking themselves up.

“This cast has been wonderful to work with,” he said. “Part of the problem I had was getting them to stop laughing at the jokes, because the audience is supposed to laugh at the jokes, [they’re] not supposed to laugh. It just been a joy working with them.”

“The cast is really fun,” agreed Shelby Montoya, who plays Ela Delahay. “It’s probably the most fun cast I’ve ever been a part of. All of us are laughing all the time with each other. We had to eventually get to a point where we’re like, ‘We’re not allowed to joke anymore,’ because we were laughing in between every scene and we would laugh at the jokes onstage.”

“The show is very funny, at least from what we think,” said Cris Matochi, who plays Jack Chesney. “It was written beautifully. There are a lot of moments when characters talk to themselves on stage and so the audience has that chance of actually living a story with the characters and I think that’s very interesting.”

Matochi, who is originally from Brazil, said for him, the most difficult part of the production was the British accent.

“All the theater I’ve done before I’ve never actually had to have a British accent, so that to me, was probably the biggest challenge,” he said. “And also, I have so many lines, I’m on stage practically the whole time, so I have so many chunks of lines and trying to memorize them. But the British accent I think is probably the hardest for me. It’s probably going to sound hideous, but I’m trying my best.”

Accents aside, there are plenty of other interesting tidbits that add to the charm of “Charley’s Aunt,” including casting.

“You have both a father and a daughter and a father and a son in the cast,” Frazer said, referring to Shelby Montoya and her father, Matt, and David Gibson and his son, AJ. “It’s been a lot of fun watching them as they interact, not only with other cast members but with each other.”

David Gibson plays Sir Frances Chesney, father to Jack, who has convinced his friend Babbs to impersonate Charley’s aunt.

“I come to tell Jack our family fortunes were maybe not what we thought they were, that we may be struggling a little bit,” said Gibson. “[Jack] comes up with this idea that maybe I could marry this wealthy widow, Lucia D’alvadorez, who is his friend Charley’s aunt. Things get confused because he enlists one of his other friends to impersonate Charley’s aunt and forgets he had talked to me about trying to marry her, so I end up proposing to his friend, disguised as Charley’s aunt…who in real life is my son.”

That brings us to Charley’s fake aunt, also known as Lord Fancourt Babberly, adeptly played by AJ Gibson. While he doesn’t exactly steal the scenes, it’s clear Babberly seems to relish his role as Charley’s aunt.

“[Babbs] actually does have a very kind and generous heart and you don’t really see that because a lot of times he’s just enjoying messing with everyone,” said AJ. “He’s not going to say it because he wants to act all reluctant about doing this entire thing, but he enjoys it. He’s having a bit of fun seducing all of these guys and being so favored by the girls and he enjoys watching his friends get all angry at him. He’s a fun character.”

It is the tongue-in-cheek-nature of Babbs’ portrayal of Charley’s aunt that adds to the humor of the show.

“Another thing about Lord Fancourt Babberly is, he’s never acted in his life before, so he’s supposed to be just terrible at acting like an old lady,” AJ said. “He’s mostly just acting like himself most of the time and I’ve adjusted that a little bit so I do seem a bit like an old lady, but for the most part, it just seems like a man in a dress in a wig. Which is precisely what makes the show so funny.”

Babbs’ character’s feminine wiles – or her imaginary millions – apparently do the trick, as two older gentlemen compete to win her affections.

“The thing that pricks up his interest is who she is, the world-famous millionairess from Brazil,” said Kevin Wm Meyer, who plays Stephen Spettigue, Amy’s uncle and Kitty’s guardian. “Everybody kind of likes to figure out a way to get more money and that’s his interest at the moment. So he throws a little grit in the oil of the gears that are turning, causing problems. Then there’s a little competition between he and Sir Frances Chesney, because they’re both trying to go after her millions. It’s just a fun character to play.”

Jared Bryant, who plays Charley, said while audiences will certainly be able to relate to the show despite the time period in which it’s set, there are some ways in which art definitely does not imitate life.

“In my dating life, I do my best to tell my family literally nothing,” he laughed. “I want them to know as little as possible. It’s like the exact opposite of how it was back then.”

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday through June 19. Tickets are $18. Information and tickets are available online at whidbeyplayhouse.com. Whidbey Playhouse is located at 730 SE Midway Blvd. in Oak Harbor.

Cast and crew encourage people to come out and enjoy the show.

“If you want a good laugh, a tonic for the state of affairs of today, if you want to give yourself a couple of hours of being able to escape and just have fun and laugh, this is the show,” said Frazer.

“It’s just so funny,” said Tina Magnoli, who plays Amy Spettigue. “There’s a lot of humor and jokes in the way things are said and brought up throughout the show, but there’s also a lot of physical comedy, too.”

“I really hope people will come and unplug themselves from technology and reality for a little bit and come in here and immerse themselves in this world that is the 1890s,” said Matochi. “I think it’s going to be something the community can relate to – the tenacity of the characters in trying to accomplish their goals.”