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Charley's Aunt

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Charley's Aunt
Theatre in the Park
Through June 21

Men wearing women's clothes is one of the ancient traditions of the theater, as is the confusion that results from it. And once you actually had male characters dressed as women—well, that opened up a whole new genre of storytelling that continues to this day.

The premise feels a mite dated these days, and that's probably because it's more than 100 years old—dating back at least as far as the 1882 farce Charley's Aunt, which is currently being revived at Raleigh's Theatre in the Park. Despite the show's premise, an adept cast and lively direction by David Henderson help this production feel fresh.

Charley's Aunt is a variation on the classic comedy of manners—and errors. Jack Chesney (Allan Maule) and his friend Charley Wykeham (Jason Justice) are two Oxford boys looking to propose to their sweethearts, Kitty and Amy (Hillary Edwards and Athena Reaves), but need a chaperone to appease the ladies' guardian, Spettigue (Don Bridge). When the titular aunt fails to show for her chaperone duties, the two recruit their cagey friend Babberley (Matthew Hager) to don his theater costume to impersonate her. A great many slammed doors and cases of mistaken identity follow.

The cast all does a solid job with the required British accents, and Hager, a newcomer to Theatre in the Park, is a standout as Babberley, bringing a mischievous, uncouth charm to his performance. Henderson keeps the production moving at a madcap pace, and the scene and costume designs by Stephen J. Larson and Shawn Stewart Larson evoke an authentic sense of time and place. Sure, Charley's Aunt, been done many times over—but that's partly because its main conceit still works. After all, a man in an unconvincing dress is always good for a laugh.

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