News & Notables from the Division of Performing Arts

Act 1 Opens 47th Season with "Charley's Aunt"

by Matthew Smaldone '20 | Sep 16, 2016

Labuda Center at Night

Brandon Thomas’ hilarious classic farce is a laugh-a-minute masquerade

Act 1 DeSales University Theatre opens its 47th season with Brandon Thomas’ hilarious farce, Charley’s Aunt. This timeless comedy will be presented September 28 to October 9, 2016 on the Main Stage of the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts, Center Valley, PA.

Charley’s Aunt is set at Oxford University, in the quarters of two undergraduates, Jack Chesney and Charley Wykeham, who are frantically searching for a way to express their love to their soon departing sweethearts. The solution to their problem comes in the form of Charley’s aunt who is visiting from Brazil. With her acting as a chaperone, the boys can invite their lovers to an official lunch and finally pop the question. However, all goes wrong when a message arrives informing the boys that the aunt is delayed and won’t make it in time. In a last ditch effort the young lads coerce their friend, Lord Fancourt “Babbs” Babberly, to don a dress and become Charley’s "aunt.” Throughout the afternoon the troublesome trio fumble through spastic conversations, unexpected suitors, cat-and-mouse meet-ups, and the occasional teatime mishap. Charley’s Aunt is a frenzied farce filled with so many twists and turns it’ll make your head spin. “Farce is a devilishly difficult genre,” says performing arts division head John Bell. “For young actors, it’s often helpful to have them think of how broadly they act in life. If they can recognize how they act in a larger-than-life manner about unimportant things, then they can imagine what happens when the stakes truly are life and death. That’s the place from which characters in a farce operate.”

Brandon Thomas started his run of  Charley’s Aunt through a set of unconventional circumstances. At the request of W. S. Penley, one of Victorian England’s premier comedians and Thomas’ favorite actors, Brandon penned his masterpiece in three and a half weeks and set out on a regional tour. His success was negligible and soon he was scrapping for funders. He finally caught his break in a company promoter and on December 21, 1892 at the Royalty Theatre, Charley’s Aunt became a smash hit. Within a year the comical farce was running on Broadway and had tours in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and Germany. The extreme acclaim opened up many creative avenues for the original material. “In the ensuing century since “Charley’s Aunt” premiered, the play has been revived and adapted into films and musicals,” remarks Bell. “You know a play is great when the producers try to adapt it into other genres.”

Throughout its lucrative history, Charley’s Aunt has seen many talented writers and actors (including Ray Bolger and Jack Benny) pay homage to its genius through their contributions to its various adaptations. Before Ray Bolger starred in the 1952 film musical entitled Where’s Charley?, he played Charley in a stage musical adaptation of the same name. It ran from 1948 to 1950 at the St. James Theater and enjoyed music and lyrics penned by Guys and Dolls composer Frank Loesser and a book written by George Abbott.

Charley’s Aunt is directed by associate professor of theatre Wayne Turney. Of the farce he says, “The most effusive praise is not hyperbole. I don’t want to raise expectations so high that everyone’s going to come in and split their sides but I don’t see how you could help it. You would think the manners would be old fashioned but you go to that world and you believe it and it’s fun because ultimately it’s about people.” 

Charley’s Aunt is brought to life with sets and costumes by Act 1’s creative resident design faculty team: scenic designer Will Neuert, costume designer Amy Best, and lighting and sound designer Elizabeth Elliott.

The production runs September 28 to October 9, 2016 on the Main Stage of the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM. There is a morning matinee on Tuesday, October 4 at 9:45 AM, followed by a talk back with the director and cast. A talk back is also scheduled for Sunday, October 2 after the 2:00 PM performance.

In an effort to improve accessibility for all patrons, the Saturday, October 8, 8:00 PM performance will feature Open Captioning for patrons who are deaf or hearing impaired, and Audio Descriptions for patrons who are blind or visually impaired. During Open Captioned performances, all dialogue and sound effects are presented in real-time on an LED screen that is adjacent to the stage. During Audio Described performances, all action and physical appearances are described live through a headset. Tickets are half price for patrons using these special services on this date. Please call box office manager Catherine Logan at 610-282-3654, ext. 1 for more information.

Ticket prices are $21 for adults and $19 for students and seniors on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and $25 for adults and $23 for students and seniors on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Group discounts are available for all performances. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Labuda Center box office at 610-282-3192 or by visiting the web site at www.desales.edu/act1.

The Labuda Center is fully accessible and equipped with a listening enhancement system. Special seating is available for our patrons using wheelchairs or requiring other assistance. Please inform the box office of your needs when ordering tickets. 

Note: The historical information cited in this press release was researched from the following:

Browne, Peter. "Charley's Fabulous Aunt." Saturday Evening Post 233.3 (1960).
"The Listening Post." Saturday Evening Post 214.49 (1942).
“Ridiculous Comedy is Farce and Furious.” Evening Herald, 27 April 2007


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