If you live anywhere in the vicinity of Los Angeles, get yourself to a relatively small local theater called the Glendale Centre Theatre for one of the most amazing and enjoyable productions you’ll find anywhere this year. The oldest continuously operating theater-in-the-round in the country, the Glendale Centre Theatre was started by Ruth and Nathan Hale in 1947 when, in their chauvinism, the men in Hollywood wouldn’t allow Ruth to write screenplays because she was a woman. The community won from this bad decision as Ruth went on to write over 100 excellent plays and musicals, many of which I enjoyed as a girl. Now in its 73rd year of making people laugh, cry, and sing along with the cast and owned by the Hales’ great-grandsons, the GCT has staged yet another hit in the classic comedy Charley’s Aunt.
If you aren’t familiar with this very humorous play set in 1920, it involves two young men who are eager to propose to their girls, but they need a chaperone for the women to agree to spend time with the young men. When Charley’s aunt, a very rich widow, postpones her trip to be with her nephew, Charley and Jack coerce their friend, Lord Fancourt Babberley, known as Babbs, into dressing up as an older woman to pretend to be Donna Lucia, Charley’s aunt. Silly hi-jinks ensue, especially as the fathers of the two young men decide to chase after the rich widow, no matter how ugly a woman Babbs makes.
Charley’s Aunt is a delightful comedy, and this production is outstanding! The fast-moving show has a high level of energy throughout, building up to a strong climax at the end. While the story is very silly (just the detail of Babbs’ wearing drag comes across as ridiculous, even before the plot develops to become even crazier), the GCT does an excellent job of pulling it off with panache and making the wild plot highly entert
aining. The GCT prides itself in being family friendly, and this play fits the standard of having clean humor while also keeping the audience laughing out loud from beginning to end.
When the play opened, I thought that Richard Malmos, in the role of Brassett the butler, would be the runaway star. While not a main character, Malmos plays this secondary role with a great deal of flavor, using strong physical expressions, both in face and body. He proves to be the perfect person to open this delightful show.
Then, Ethan Haslam comes on stage in the role of Babbs. Initially he seems fun but not a stand-out, but as the play progresses, it becomes apparent that Haslam has been merely holding back on releasing his considerable energy in order to build up to a strong finish. He particularly demonstrates his talent as he shifts emotions, turning on a dime between cheer and fear. Babbs openly gloats over stealing the attention of Jack’s and Charley’s girls and then runs away or sneaks out, often by crawling, in terror over the pursuit by the young ladies’ uncle and guardian, Stephen Spettigue. What a gifted actor!
But the man who really steals the show is Shawn Cahill in the role of Stephen Spettigue. Popping in and out of the scenes to create an interlude between pieces of action, Cahill spends the play chasing the supposed Donna Lucia as soon as he realizes how rich the woman is. Transforming instantly from an irate uncle to an ardent suitor, Cahill as Spettigue shows intense emotion in whatever he is doing. I must have laughed at each time Cahill entered the stage, especially since we all know he is chasing a man dressed as a woman.
This play, often a staple of high school theaters, is funny in and of itself, but the GCT’s staging made it truly hilarious, keeping the audience enthralled throughout. Our constant laughter throughout helped to energize the actors, creating a symbiotic relationship that further increased the joy of watching the show.
The GCT is an especially amazing place to attend plays and musicals. As a theater-in-the-round, the stage is placed in the center of the room, while the seats rise up around all four sides of the stage. With the highest row’s being a mere 10 rows up above the stage, no single seat is a bad seat in the house. Further, tickets for this high quality production are much cheaper than shows of comparable quality elsewhere, costing just $22 for children, $34 for adults, and $31 for seniors.
I had a terrific time enjoying Charley’s Aunt at the GCT, and I guarantee that you will love it too. But catch it while you can because on February 8, the show changes to Bright Star, a 5- time Tony-nominated musical set in the 1920s’ and 40s’ Blueridge Mountains and written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.
This delightful play is perfect for the whole family and one I can wholeheartedly endorse for everyone!