LANESBORO — If it seems like the comedy “Charley’s Aunt” has been around forever, that’s because it has been — almost.
The popular play debuted in 1892 in England, moving to New York’s Broadway in 1893. And it has never gone stale.
“It holds up remarkably well,” said Hal Cropp, who is directing the Commonweal Theatre‘s production of “Charley’s Aunt,” which opens Saturday.
So much so that the play, by Brandon Thomas, never really goes into hibernation, no matter what the season. “I believe there has never been a year without a production of it,” Cropp said.
“Charley’s Aunt,” he said, might be regarded as the prototype for the modern comedy.
Charley and Jack are two young Englishmen who invite some pretty girls over to meet Charley’s rich aunt, who is arriving from Brazil. But the aunt cancels her visit at the last minute, causing the boys, who want desperately to impress their guests, to draft in one of their male friends, dressed in drag, to portray the aunt.
“It’s a great amalgamation of all the classic comic elements,” Cropp said. “And you’ve got a guy in a dress. How can you go wrong?”
Although the play was written and is set in the 1890s, the Commonweal is moving it forward to about 1911, just before the sinking of the Titanic and the start of World War I. “We’re using ‘Downton Abbey’ as a touchstone,” Cropp said. “It’s a culmination of that era.”
The cast features regular Commonweal company members, some newcomers and four Commonweal apprentice actors. That blending of experience levels is the Commonweal way.
“The benefit of having experienced people working alongside inexperienced people is they are able to lead by example,” Cropp said. “Everybody at the Commonweal knows this is the way we do things.”
Just as “Charley’s Aunt” appeals to actors of all ages, it should appeal even to young audience members, who might consider it an old war horse of the theater.
“I don’t think that’s a problem because it’s so funny,” Cropp said. “Funny is funny, no matter how old it is.”