LANESBORO — There’s no need to claim that “Charley’s Aunt,” the current offering at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, is anything more than a lightweight charmer.
Except for this: “Charley’s Aunt” has a lot of history behind it. The comedy by Walter Brandon Thomas made its debut in 1892 and has been performed almost continuously since then somewhere in the world. It is the basis for much comedy that has come since then.
That, perhaps, is why there is a feeling, while watching the Commonweal’s entertaining production, that we’ve seen this all before. The same characters, situations, confused identities, etc., have shown up in dozens of stage farces and comedies, not to mention in film and television sitcoms.
But guess what: It’s still funny. When Gary Danciu’s stuffy Oxford student Jack Chesney gets in over his head we laugh in part because we know this character so well. We can anticipate the trouble he’s about to cause. Danciu, by the way, had become a versatile, dependable actor at the Commonweal, and it shows in this production.
He’s joined by apprentice David Wasserman, as Charley, a nervous sort who lacks Jack’s misplaced assurance that all will turn out well as they attempt to pass off a classmate, played by the hilarious and animated Brandt Roberts, as Charley’s rich aunt.
This is also the debut performance for Commonweal interns Elizabeth Dunn, Abbie Cathcart and Kami Spaulding. Veteran actor Wade Alden makes his Commonweal debut as Jack’s father, who falls under the spell of the “aunt” — that is until the real aunt. played by Megan K. Pence, shows up. Meanwhlie, David Hennessey’s Stephen Spettigue chases after the “aunt” like a besotted teenager. All the while, Jack’s valet, played with mocking glee by Eric Lee, watches the proceedings with one eyebrow figuratively arched.
The apprentices make strong showings, and Wasserman in particular seems well-suited to this kind of comedy.
Director Hal Cropp contends there is more at play in “Charley’s Aunt” than simply laughs. There are subtle digs at the upper crust of British society, and so forth, he has said.That might be, but audiences will more likely simply enjoy the timeless comedy of a show that after 120 years has not yet worn out its welcome.