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In pursuit of love, money and laughter at Laurel Mill

In pursuit of love, money and laughter at Laurel Mill
Michael Safko and Lenny Dinerman in "Charley's Aunt" now at Laurel Mill Playhouse through Sunday. (Courtesy photo / Julie Rogers)

Love and laughter are in the air at Laurel Mill Playhouse, where “Charley’s Aunt,” a 19th-century farce written by British playwright Brandon Thomas, brings lighthearted humor that has stood the test of time.

The wildly popular show opened at the (now preserved) Theatre Royal in Suffolk, England in 1892 and went on to wow London, Paris and international audiences.

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Thomas’ script has been adapted to opera, musical theater and motion pictures — including two silent films and a 1941 movie starring Jack Benny — and translated into scores of foreign languages in a record-breaking number of stage productions.

Produced and directed here by Maureen Rogers and Patrick Pase, respectively, the show quaintly adapts to the Playhouse stage. Pase has designed a simple and elegantly appointed set as well as lights and sound, while Marge McGugan has assembled charming period costumes.

The plot revolves around two lovestruck Oxford undergraduates (James Olsen as Jack Chesney, Patrick O’Connell as Charley Wykeham) intent on proposing to their girlfriends (Rebecca Korn as Kitty, Emily Bruun as Amy) in Victorian England. Stephen Spettigue (Lenny Dinerman), their guardian, is about to whisk the young women away to Scotland.

Charley is expecting a visit from a millionaire aunt he’s never met, and he and Jack invite the girls for lunch at Jack’s rooms at Oxford to meet Charley’s Aunt — “Donna Lucia from Brazil where the nuts come from.”

Since Donna Lucia will serve as the required chaperone, they enlist an eccentric friend, Lord Fancourt Babberly (Michael Safko), to distract the widow while they speak with their girls in private.

Of course, nothing goes as planned.

The romantic farce is driven by broad exaggeration and timing — a challenge that Pase, crew and cast ardently step up to in a tightly paced, wonderfully enacted production with smooth-as-silk scene changes.

Michael Safko is larger than life as the champagne-stealing Babberly; he catches chuckle after chuckle disguised as a deep-voiced, rather homely cigar-smoking dowager who drives Charley and Jack to distraction by flirting shamelessly with their girls.

From the moment the lights rise, Olsen sets an admirable pace as Jack waxes poetic about Kitty. He and Korn create very sweet chemistry and wonderful energy as lovebirds, as do O’Connell and Bruun as Charley and Amy.

David Chalmers is stately and convincing as Jack’s retired colonel father; his relief when Donna Lucia refuses him is a riot. And Sir Chesney’s rival (and Jack and Charley’s nemesis), Dinerman as Stephen Spettigue is as entertaining as he is unlikable.

Then there is Pase as Brassett, Jack’s valet, whose is always fascinating to watch, especially when he appears in the background.

“Charley’s Aunt” continues through Sunday at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St., with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinee performances at 2 p.m.; and a special performance on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. General admission is $20; seniors ages 65 and older pay $15. For tickets, go to laurelmillplayhouse.org.

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