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Physical, farcical comedy onstage for Fall Festival

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Full of physical humor for all ages, the British farce Charley’s Aunt, by Brandon Thomas, is this year’s feature performance at Bethel College’s Fall Festival.

Bethel College’s theater department is putting on the production, which will have three show times on the Krehbiel Auditorium stage: Friday, Oct. 7, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 8, at 3:30 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 9, at 2 p.m.

The comedy is set in Oxford, England, in 1890. Two university students, Charley Wyckham and Jack Chesney, want to propose marriage to the loves of their lives. The problem: the two, Amy Spettigue and Kitty Verdun, live under the watchful eye of Amy’s Uncle Stephen Spettigue, who forbids the girls to see the boys.

Then Uncle Stephen goes out of town – but these proper young ladies will not see the boys without a chaperone. Happily, Charley’s Aunt Donna Lucia from Brazil (“where the nuts come from”) is due to visit – but when she doesn’t arrive as scheduled, the two boys persuade their friend Fancourt Babberly to dress up and act as the aunt. When Jack’s father, Sir Francis Chesney, falls for “Charley’s aunt,” both problems and hilarity ensue.

The play was first performed in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England, in 1892 and went on to break historic records for plays of any kind, with an original London run of 1,466 performances.

The Bethel cast for Charley’s Aunt is Alex Wine, freshman from Sandia, N.M., as Charley; Chris Riesen, junior from Beatrice, Neb., as Jack; Cody Claassen, sophomore from Whitewater, as Lord Fancourt “Babbs” Babberly; Katie Schmidt, freshman from Newton, as Amy; Julia Miller, junior from Hesston, as Kitty; Creigh Bartel, sophomore from Newton, as Uncle Stephen; Nathan Snyder, senior from Hesston, as Colonel Sir Francis Chesney; Eric Goering, senior from McPherson, as Brassett, the valet; Audra Miller, junior from Hesston, as Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez; and Kelsey Ortman, senior from Marion, S.D., as Ela Delahay.

Megan Upton-Tyner, Bethel instructor of theater, is directing the Bethel production of Charley’s Aunt. She said she decided on the piece because she knew it was for Fall Festival and wanted to do something “energetic and fun,” that “the whole family would enjoy.”

“I am really in love with the blocking and the farcical element,” she said. “There are several scenes where they’re climbing on tables, or where Cody makes his entrance through a window, not through a door. I love the way he is pretending to be in a dress and is prancing all around.

“It’s just hilarious. I’m excited to see the actors really own that and take control of that movement.”

This particular play is very physical, Upton-Tyner noted. Claassen, playing Babbs masquerading as Charley’s aunt, said this is “one of the most physical plays” he has been in, but that he is greatly enjoying it. At one point, the script calls for him to do a somersault, “which could be interesting, since I haven’t really done one in a long time.”

“It’s one of the best casts I’ve acted with, next to Picasso at the Lapin Agile [staged at Bethel last fall],” Claassen said. “It’s gonna be a very funny play. It’s gonna be a feel-good play.”

Although the play is unusual for having the main male character appear mostly in drag, Claassen said this is not his first production in such a costume – he wore a dress in Our Girls. However, he professed to being “slightly disappointed” in his dress for Charley’s Aunt.

“It looks really frumpy,” Claassen said. “And I’m not sure why, but I wanted something a little more come-hither, more sexy. Maybe I should be thankful it’s not showing that much.”

At any rate, Claassen’s “frumpy” attire undoubtedly helps make Charley’s Aunt a family-friendly play you can bring the kids to.

As the play comes together, the cast has been remembering an important member of the theater department who is no longer performing.

“We are still reeling from the loss of Seth [Dunn, who died in an accident Aug. 1],” Upton-Tyner said. “So I think in many ways, this is a great beginning of the season, with something so boisterous and funny. It is very much how I see and how I remember Seth and that’s good. I think this season is unofficially dedicated to his memory. The pieces we’ve chosen have kind of fitted into the things he symbolized for me and also that he would appreciate and enjoy.”

Claassen agreed that Charley’s Aunt reminds him of Dunn, with a type of humor he enjoyed. He said Dunn would have fit about any character in this particular play.

Tickets for Charley’s Aunt are available at Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center, open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, phone 316-284-5205; or at the Fine Arts Center ticket booth starting one hour before each performance, subject to availability.

Ticket prices are: adults $10; non-Bethel students and adults age 65 and older $8; children (ages 3-12) $6.50; Bethel students $2 Friday and Saturday and free Sunday. Kidron Bethel residents who present an ID have prepaid admission.

This year’s Fall Festival at Bethel College begins Thursday, Oct. 6, with the 25th annual Taste of Newton downtown. For a complete Fall Festival schedule, go to www.bethelks.edu/alumni/events/FF/.

ethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2011-12 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2011-12. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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