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Theater Review: "Travels With My Aunt"

L to R Benjamin Cole, David McBean, James Saba & Richard Baird
Photo credit:
Aaron Rumley

Some people are lucky enough to have an aunt, friend or relative to take them under wing and introduce them to the joys of travel. I’d have loved to have an Aunt Augusta, since travel is the only thing I can ever remember really wanting to do in life.

But never mind, Graham Greene has given us one in “Travels With My Aunt,” and Giles Havergal has adapted the book into a delightfully goofy tour de force in which four men play 20-some characters of various ages, genders, accents and moral fiber.

Greene has said it’s the only book he wrote just for fun.

We first see the main character, Henry Pulling, at his mother’s funeral. Henry is a rather boring just-retired bank employee, who will be played alternately by all four actors. He sees his eccentric, septuagenarian Aunt Augusta, who seems to thrive on doing strange things of questionable morality or even legality.

Henry is perfectly happy tending his dahlias in suburban Southwood, but Aunt Augusta insists that he accompany her and her, um, factotum Wordsworth (a hulking black man who, as Augusta explains with a wink, “attends to my wants.”) 

Soon they’re off on a transcontinental jaunt that will include (but not be limited to) Paris, Milan, Istanbul and eventually South America. Along the way, Henry will be introduced to pot smoking, currency smuggling and even shielding former war criminals.

The story itself is crazy enough, but nowhere near as loony as the demands made on these four terrific actors, who literally change characters in an instant and keep the plot rocking at warp speed.

The team is led by James Saba, who plays the irrepressible Aunt Augusta with so much panache and charm that you’ll wish they’d seat you next to her at the next dinner party.

Richard Baird, best known in these parts for his Shakespearean portrayals, goes far afield here, portraying the Caribbean accented Wordsworth and a passel of others, including fortune-teller Hatty (who frankly seems a bit batty), an assortment of detectives and policemen.

Baird seems to be the dialect and accent expert on this team.

David McBean portrays several women – magnificently – as well as a miscellany of others, including a vicar.

Benjamin Cole plays Actor 4, a man with few lines but a huge responsibility as the props man.

The play depends on split-second timing, and director David Ellenstein has found the right cast and crew. Matt Novotny’s lighting and Melanie Chen’s sound designs are excellent, but Aaron Rumley’s amazing projections of all the geographic locations are spectacular.

“Travels With My Aunt” is light but delicious fare, perfect for a spring evening or any other time you’d just like to escape from reality for a few hours.

The details

“Travels With My Aunt” plays through May 14, 2017 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (858) 481-1055 or northcoastrep.org