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'Charley's Aunt' will pay a visit

The comedy-farce about mistaken identities is coming to the Richey Suncoast Theatre.

By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2000


Even though she's 108 years old, Charley's Aunt can still be one funny chick, thanks to the timeless theatrical devices of mistaken identities, sight gags, physical humor and, of course, a man dressed like a woman.

Aunt will come to the Richey Suncoast Theatre on Thursday and stick around for the following three weekends.

Originally produced in 1892 in London, Charley's Aunt has been a favorite since then -- on stage, in the movies (in 1941 with Jack Benny) and as a musical, 1952's Where's Charley? with Ray Bolger.

It's the story of two college boys, Jack and Charley, who want to go out with their girlfriends, Kitty and Amy, but can't go anywhere in Victorian England without a chaperone. A proper chaperone seems to be in the offing when the boys learn that Charley's rich aunt, Donna Lucia, will soon come to town.

When Donna Lucia sends word that she can't come after all, the boys don't scuttle their plans; they recruit one of their classmates, Lord Fancourt Babberly, to impersonate Charley's aunt. He dresses up in a black satin skirt, a pair of mitts, an old-fashioned cap and a wig. "She" is so fetching (to say nothing of her most attractive fortune) that Amy's Uncle Stephen and Jack's father, Sir Francis, immediately begin to court her.

Into all this mayhem arrives the genuine aunt, Donna Lucia, accompanied by Babberly's beloved, Ela.

How can this work out?

In best English tradition, not until there has been a lot of confusion, slamming doors, shrieks of dismay and surprise, and a lot of laughs.

Playing the phony aunt-title character is James Grenelle, who is also director of the play. Richey Suncoast audiences will remember Grenelle for his Lary Award-winning portrayal of Malvern Larkfield in last season's Caught in the Villain's Web and his direction of this season's Musical Comedy Murders of 1940. The two productions are among the 95 in which the college junior has participated during the past 13 years.

Matthew Michael Schiel returns to Richey Suncoast to play Jack Chesney. Rick Conti makes his RST debut as Charley Wykeham. Award-winning actor Keri Bothwell plays Jack's girlfriend, Kitty Verdun. Lynnette Fellenbaum portrays Charley's inamorata, Amy Spettigue.

The cast is rounded out with theater veterans Abbot Morgan as Amy's guardian, Stephen, John Masterson reprising the role of Sir Francis, Ginny Fraebel as Donna Lucia, Erika Mitchell as Lord Babberly's beloved, Ela, and Reed West as Brassett.

The 13-member stage crew includes Tom Hansen as designer of sets and lights, and Scottie Michaels as costumer. Ro Grenelle is in charge of props.

At a glance

  • WHAT: Charley's Aunt, a comedy-farce in two acts

  • WHERE: Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey.

  • WHEN: Thursday and weekends April 21-May 7

  • TICKETS: $8 for adults, $4 for students. Box office is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and one hour before each show. Call (727) 842-6777.

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