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Call it ‘Charley’s Aunt’ or ‘La Tia de Carlos'--it speaks the language of theater.

“Charley’s Aunt,” a comedy written almost a century ago, has been a staple of high school and community theater for years. It was even turned into a Broadway musical once upon a time.

But at the Inglewood Playhouse, the venerable English romp by Brandon Thomas is about to make an appearance as “La Tia de Carlos"--at least for half of the six-weekend run of performances that begins tonight at 8 p.m.

After a decade of theater aimed largely at Inglewood’s black population, the city-operated playhouse is offering the farce--in which a man disguised as the “aunt” provides ample opportunity for double-entendre fun--as its first bilingual production.

A company of 13 Latino actors assembled especially for the production will perform the play in English for the first three weekends and in Spanish for the second half of the run.

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And even in English, the production will have a Latino flavor through the use of Latino character names.

The play’s Victorian English quaintness also has been tempered by an updated Los Angeles setting. There are references to karate, yoga, women’s lib and sex-change operations. Two toilets are props on the stage--but rather than plumbing, they are artworks decorated by one of the characters, who is an artist.

Although the bilingual production is called an experiment by some who are putting it on, the idea of Spanish-language theater is a natural for Inglewood because of changing demographics, said Nathan Kessman, city cultural supervisor, who is in charge of the playhouse.

Just-released 1990 census figures show that 39% of Inglewood’s 109,602 residents are Hispanic--that’s up 134% in 10 years--and the playhouse would like to attract this audience.

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“We wanted to be able to offer them entertainment,” Kessman said. “We didn’t want to leave out the black community, and that’s where we came up with the idea of doing the play in English and Spanish.”

“Charley’s Aunt” was chosen because it is a classic play with universal appeal that does not focus on a particular ethnic group. Said Kessman: “We wanted a comedy, something light, that would appeal to a wide audience of all ages.”

Bilingual performances aren’t the only innovations floating around the playhouse, a compact, 57-seat theater tucked away in the rolling hills of Centinela Park. It does four productions a year, most of them community theater shows with unpaid casts chosen in open auditions.

“There is a variety of people (in Inglewood who could) receive something from this theater, and our policy is to offer something to every individual,” said China Suzette Domingue, who started working with the playhouse two years ago as a stage manager and actor, and became producing director in January.

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To that end, she would like to begin doing children’s theater, puppetry and mime shows, Asian theater and plays with nondenominational religious, spiritual and moral themes.

From the start, innovation and change seem to have been a part of the Inglewood Playhouse, which has frequently presented original works. During the 1970s, it was known for staging classic plays, including rarely performed works.

In the 1980s, the theater specialized in plays for black audiences. It did several productions of “The African American,” a musical saga of black America written by Cepheus Jaxon, who managed the playhouse for 12 years.

This week, as they wound up three weeks of rehearsals for “Charley’s Aunt,” the Latinos in the cast and crew putting on the show were hoping for audiences big enough to make bilingual theater a success in Inglewood.

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“We are reaching out to a wider, Spanish-speaking audience,” said production coordinator Patty Orozco, who cast the show and also acts in it. People “won’t have any excuse to say, ‘Sorry, we don’t understand the language,’ ” she said.

“I hope the community will fill up the theater so we can do a lot of productions,” said Ciro Suarez , who directs the show and also dons a fuchsia dress, high heels and tawny brown wig to impersonate the aunt.

Suarez said the biggest challenge in preparing the show has been the two languages. “Some actors may be fluent in Spanish but have problems with English, or vice versa, and sometimes the play doesn’t translate as well as it should,” he said.

But he thinks that with its convoluted plot and frantic pace, “Charley’s Aunt"--or “La Tia de Carlos"--is a perfect play for attracting new people to theater.

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“It’s so funny,” he said. “If people go see it, they’ll come back to see theater again.”

What: “Charley’s Aunt.”

When: Friday and Saturday , 8 p.m.; Sunday , 3 p.m.; also weekends through April 14, except Easter weekend.

Where: Inglewood Playhouse, 740 Warren Lane in Centinela Park, Inglewood.

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Admission: $10 adults; $5 students and seniors.

Information and reservations: 412-5508.


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