Charley's Aunt | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Charley's Aunt 

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Charley's Aunt, Candlelight's Forum Theatre.

A chestnut worth roasting in any season, Brandon Thomas's 1892 drag comedy still bends the genders with contagious glee. The farcical plot provides the perfect excuse for female impersonation, here genteelly described as a "pious fraud." College chums Jack and Charley, both courting young ladies, recruit Lord Fancourt Babberley as their "chaperon"--Charley's aunt from Brazil ("where the nuts come from"), a role "Babs" must preserve even when he's courted by two elderly gentlemen and finally exposed by the real aunt. The pleasure comes in watching this amateur thespian discover the power of flirting (as Dustin Hoffman's Tootsie would decades later) as he runs the thrilling risk of being found out. Though Babs seems frustrated to be stuck in a dress, especially when his beloved appears, it unleashes possibilities in him that pants never could.

Despite uneven or missing accents, William Pullinsi's staging is a faithful, often hilarious revival, bubbling over with nonstop energy, whiplash changes, and double takes. At its comic center is rubber-faced Larry Wyatt, whose travesty aunt is a marvel of inspired mugging and barely repressed hysteria. Missing are a special drag voice to go with the widow's weeds and a visible delight in his successful imposture. We ought to love him in the gown as

we never could out of it. Teeming with well-crafted folly are Dale Benson's puritanical guardian, Tom Roland's gruff father, and Lawrence McCauley's elaborately bemused butler. Jeff Bauer's Oxford quadrangle and Karin Kopischke's Victorian costumes are ever so right.

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