YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Driving Aunt Augusta

Laguna Playhouse Packs Informality Into 'Travels With My Aunt'


LAGUNA BEACH — With commentators chiding Queen Elizabeth for hands-off formality, the timing was right for the Thursday opening of "Travels With My Aunt," at Laguna Playhouse's Moulton Theater.

The play's Aunt Augusta demonstrates how even a British woman in her 70s can be extremely hands-on and informal.

The message of Graham Greene's picaresque novel, as adapted by Giles Havergal and staged by Richard Stein, is that these qualities can exist in just about anyone. Even in Augusta's starchy nephew Henry, a recently retired banker who finally meets his aunt at his mother's funeral and gradually finds himself lured into her wild life.


As if to illustrate the range of possibilities that can exist within one person, the play spreads 25 roles among four actors--all of them men. The men playing the women illustrates the "cheekiness" of the material, Havergal said in an interview. However, they wear identical men's suits throughout--gray ones during the first act and cream-colored ones during the second, more carefree act.

There are many chuckles and a few big laughs as these skilled actors move quickly between genders, races and even species.

Ron Boussom, with 10 roles including six women, has the showiest part, creating almost as much mirth with Henry's initially skeptical glances at his aunt as with his array of subtly different women and girls.

All of the other actors periodically play Henry too, but Tom Shelton ably specializes in Augusta's many paramours, particularly the big West African immigrant Wordsworth, and the disreputable Visconti, glimpsed both during World War II and in Paraguay in 1969.

Christopher Utley plays less prominent characters but gets a madcap dance around the stage while moving the simple, blond-wood set pieces.

Howard Shangraw plays only two roles: Henry, of course, but, more important, the irrepressible Augusta. This is where the male-only casting begins to, well, drag. It's hard to cross genders to play a central character all evening long, especially without benefit of appropriate clothes and makeup. Shangraw's characterization has its moments but ultimately feels stretched too thin--the initial "cheekiness" doesn't sufficiently develop into something deeper. His occasional diversions into playing Henry are distracting and unnecessary, considering that three others are also playing Henry.

Stein keeps the stage hopping and the action clear, aided by over-the-stage supertitles announcing locales.


"Travels With My Aunt," Moulton Theater, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Sept. 28. $29-$35. (714) 497-ARTS. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

Howard Shangraw: "H"

Ron Boussom: "I"

Tom Shelton: "V"

Christopher Utley: "G"

A Laguna Playhouse production. By Graham Greene. Adapted by Giles Havergal. Directed by Richard Stein. Costumes and set by Dwight Richard Odle. Lights by Don Gruber. Sound by David Edwards. Dialect consultant: Susan Denaker. Dance consultant: Cathy Lozano. Production stage manager: Alice Harkins.

Los Angeles Times Articles