The Dual Critics traveled to Jacksonville’s Mandarin area on March 7 to see the first recent North Florida production of “Charley’s Aunt,” which was staged at the Mandarin United Methodist Church (11270 San Jose Blvd.) by the newly formed Act II Players. The group evolved as a theatre troupe of the Fine Arts Conservatory, and is filled with energetic talented members.

This farce by British author Brandon Thomas was first performed on an English stage in 1882 and made it to Broadway in 1893; long runs followed.  The play still finds its way to stages throughout the country from time to time.

This production was an adapted version by Director Erin Krull. And while this is Krull’s directorial debut, she has appeared in a number of stage plays, which included Romeo and Juliet,” Miracle on 34th Street,” and “Three’s A Family.” She is currently pursuing a degree in Entertainment Management at UNF. The show was well cast and well directed, and we are looking forward to more of her work. Emily Turner was the Assistant Director.

If you have followed theatre at all, you will have noticed that many older plays are being rewritten and/or restyled. Think Shakespeare set in today’s Manhattan. Here, Krull has updated the period (to the 1980s), along with the costumes, language, and setting. The original was set in Oxford and the characters had British accents.

The play opens in a dormitory at Yale University, where Jack Chesney (Daniel Blazek) and Charley Wykeham (James Lopez) share a room. The accommodations include the services of Brassett (Ralin Trosclair), a full-time maid who does the cleaning, brings them beer, wine, and food, and provides commentary from time to time. Both men are madly in love. Jack is hoping to marry Kitty Verdun (Julia McDonie) and Charlie loves Amy Spettigue (Trinity Sasscer).

Both women are planning to be away for indefinite periods, and the guys are hoping to propose marriage before that happens.  Propriety requires a chaperone and an introduction to the parents of the ladies before they can proceed, and plans are in place for a gathering where Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez (Marilyn Painter), Charley’s wealthy aunt who lives in Brazil, will make the formal introductions. Unfortunately, she sends a telegram that her visit will be delayed for several days.

Jack and Charley absolutely cannot wait, so they convince Michael Babberley, also known as Babbs (Connor Haley) to appear as Charlie’s aunt and dress as an heiress. He dons a bra and fancy dress, adds tons of makeup, and tops it off with a blond wig. It’s too hilarious to describe.

From here, you may need a road map to keep track of the characters. The play Is filled with young lovers, older lovers, many surprises, and frenzied action.

Jack’s divorced father Frank Chesney (Alan Painter) proposes to Babbs, but is rejected. Stephen Spettigue, Amy’s uncle and Kitty’s guardian (Jack Bisson) is irritable, greedy, and an obstacle to Jack and Charley’s marriage plans, but isn’t able to thwart them.

Donna Lucia does show up and finds a long-lost love in Frank Chesney. Her traveling companion is Ela Delahay (Madaline Krawchuk) who also finds happiness as she and Babbs are reunited.

The cast was line perfect in this fast-paced comedy that ran about two hours. They have all had previous theatre experience and information about productions in which they have appeared was included in the program.

Production Staff Members included: Kassandra Trosclair, George Fuller (Back Stage Crew); Erin Krull; Juanelle Marshall (Costumes); Pat Billings, Barry Krawchuck, Andy Thompson) Set Design and Construction; Sam Solomon, Cody Rollins (Lights); Lucas Smith, Andy Thompson (Sound); Gavin Turner (Publicity); and Brian Gambel (Playbill design).

This ambitious group is planning additional productions at Mandarin United Methodist Church, which is located at 11270 San Jose Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32223, The productions include “Good Answer!” (May 22 -24, 2020) and Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” (Oct 9 -11, – 2020).

Additional information is available at faconservatory.org and the Fine Arts Conservatory Facebook page.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.