SCOTT MUNSON’S NEW TAKE ON THE CLASSIC CHARLEY’S AUNT IS A BLAST AND DMT BRINGS A WINNING TEAM TO CELEBRATE BRANDON THOMAS’ VINTAGE COMEDY
It's 1966 at the Douglas Morrisson Theatre and Stanford student Charley Wykeham is waiting for his aunt to visit for the weekend. Yes,Charley’s Aunt, visits the 60’s at “The Farm” with all the sights and sounds of Bob Dylan, the summer of love and aquarius. “Charley’s Aunt ’66,” DMT’s world premiere adaptation of Brandon Thomas’s “Charley’s Aunt,” is now on stage through March 6th at the Hayward stage. The story moves the action from the 19th century to the 1960s; and writer Scott Munson relocates the classic sitcom from Oxford to Stanford. Munson bonds the concept of college students in both eras as they deal with some great social change. The story remains the same other than some sharp writing that references the 60’s. Two college guys scheme to get their gals with the help from a cross-dressing buddy posing as the over the top Aunt. Munson adds some clear Bay Area references including the rivalry between Stanford and Cal Berkeley. The young college men remain in hot pursuit of their dreams and girls with the added THC, Acid and looming Viet Nam war.
Director Craig Souza brings a top notch nine member cast to the Morrisson Theatre including a keen craft team to produce this world premiere. CHARLEY'S AUNT '66, is adapted by Munson from Brandon Thomas' iconic Charley's Aunt. Following the success of his superb new take on “An Ideal Husband” that premiered at Douglas Morrisson Theatre back in 2013. Artistic Consultant, and former DMT Artistic Director, Susan E. Evans approached the San Jose based playwright to take a fresh look at the classic 1892 comedy. Over nine months the playwright developed CHARLEY'S AUNT '66 with the help of DMT artistic staff and a group of actors. Munson says, "It was great fun to take on the challenge of adapting a play that is so well known in the theater world, and also a hit film with the immortal Jack Benny. I loved finding a new way to look at the play from a uniquely American perspective and to reveal something about us, as Americans, while remaining true to the spirit of the original."
"Charley's Aunt" to any knowledgeable theatergoer, has the iconic line "I'm Charley's aunt from Brazil … where the nuts come from." Munson keeps all that humor alive with the added “Benny Hill” soundtrack and a wonderful sound design by Cliff Caruthers who is sharp and tight with the 60’s sounds record scratches and tunes tied into this new hilarious script.
The plot is still pure over the top silliness. Two college boys, Jack and Charley, wonderfully played by the marvelous Michael Birr and the handsome Kyle Goldman as Charley. They are both in love and want to invite their girlfriends on dates, but they need a chaperone. Charley's wealthy aunt, whom he's never met, is supposed to visit, but she's delayed. So they persuade their chum Buddy, who just happens to have a dress that he might use to avoid the draft or for a play he plans to be in. Local favorite, Alan Coyne, holds the play together with his tour de force performance as the cross dressing lady from Brazil. The dapper silver haired, John Baldwin, plays Jake’s needy father and tells his son "College boys will do anything." Of course, as in any hide and seek sitcom, the real aunt Dona Lucia d’Alvadorez arrives and any semblance of sanity disappears. A highlight of the cast, the lavish Dana Lewenthal, plays a real nut lady, she is grand, and brings the big laughs to the sometimes uneven script.
Not all of Muson’s lines work and at times some of the jokes are like soft balls being pitched to old ladies. But director Souza has an inventive comic eye, and this lively production overflows with 60’s “be in” mayhem much of it instigated by Coyne, who is perfect in heels and a wig. Coyne has a face and body that can go in six directions simultaneously, and he outrageously exploits any pair of heels he can get into. Daisy Neske-Dickerson’s costumes are bright on Coyne’s flower dresses and pop wigs. Lewenthal as Dona Lucia is also dressed over the top and perfect for the role. It is the sixties and Dickerson has dug out all the Nehru jackets and paisley tie dye shirts for the college boys.
Buddy reminds us "I'm no ordinary woman," he tells the audience "I'm a woman with a history." Coyne and his fellow actors work together like the proverbial well-oiled machine. The acting is slightly stylized but never seems artificial. Michael Birr’s Jack is clever and more witty, while Kyle Goldman's Charley is always willing to take his top off and show off his manpower and naïve side. The girls match them in temperament: Kitty, the funny Brooke Silva, is quicker and cleverer, while Amy, played by the sympathetic Samantha Rasler, is quieter and slower to figure things out.
John Baldwin is affable and slightly stuffy as Jack's military father recently returned to Palo Alto to see his son. The fancy Ron Talbot fumes and sputters as the officious Stephen Spettigue, the girls' uncle and guardian. When the two men discover the aunt is rich, they compete shamelessly for her attention which adds to the confusion. Lewenthal steals the story as Donna Lucia, who goes along with the joke. Adrian Deane the sweet-tempered Ela complete the zestfull cast.
Souza keeps everything moving at a fast, but sharply defined pace cleaning Jack's room for the girls becomes a choreography of tossed bongs, pipes, weed, and Beatles records and Tom Earlwine’s props includes a bean bag chair for extra laughs. As the show winds along, the cast sings "If I Love You" with the audience. Giulio Perrone has designed three separate, richly detailed period sets including an art deco 60’s apartment for the 3rd act, and Allen Willner’s lighting is sunny and upbeat and at times psychedelic. Neske-Dickerson’s 60’s period costumes feature some khaki bell bottoms for the college boys and Mod skirts for their girl pals. It's hard to believe that the original "Charley's Aunt" was written 126 years ago and used that classic sitcom style of “who’s on first”. Now Munson’s smartly paced and consistently clever production makes this farce about "… where the nuts come from" as fresh and funny as ever set in Northern Calif. Clear references to Hayward, Berkeley and Palo Alto, the future home of Silicon Valley. The three act play runs two hours and 30 minutes with two intermissions. The final scene is always fun and the reveal and surprises are part of the fun of any version of CHARLEY’S AUNT. A story of young love, chance meetings and missed opportunities.
Douglas Morrisson Theatre presents
CHARLEY’S AUNT ’66
World Premiere of a wonderfully silly farce
by Scott Munson, directed by Craig Souza.
Douglas Morrisson Theatre,
22311 N. Third St., Hayward, CA 94546
Must close March 5th
Two hours thirty minutes - two intermissions
BOX OFFICE: (510) 881-6777; www.dmtonline.org
CAST: John Baldwin, Michael Birr, Alan Coyne, Adrian Deane, Kyle Goldman, Dana Lewenthal, Samantha Rasler, Brooke Silva, Ron Talbot
Photo’s by Terry Sullivan