Monday, June 05, 2023

Theater: Jeeves Takes Manhattan

Jeeves Takes a Bow Adapted by Margaret Raether from the stories of PG Wodehouse, Directed by Scott Nolte, Through June 17, Taproot Theatre Company

The theater seasons I pay attention to are coming to a close, but Janice Coulter and her husband, Sacnoth, treated us to this production at the Taproot up in Greenwood. north of the city. Our planned lunch place, the Olive & Grape, had changed its opening hours to later in the day, so we had lunch at Razi's, a pizza place that makes nice salads as well, and hunkered down at the Taproot's Jewell Mainstage for an afternoon of Wodehouse. 

The Jewell is, well, a little jewelbox of a performance space, the stage thrust out deeply into the main space and surrounded on three sides by the audience, who are also sprinkled overhead along thin galleries. It brings the audience right on top of the action (such that they warn the patrons not to put their feet on the stage, lest they be trampled), but has the downside that sightlines don't always work, and we were treated to a great deal of "back-of-the-head exposition".  Which is a pity, since the actors were all excellent. 

Long-time readers of this blog know about my enjoyment of Wodehouse's world. The plot of Jeeves Takes a Bow is pillaged from the Bertie and Jeeves canon, along with original material heavily influenced by the genre. Bertie Wooster (Calder Jameson Shilling) and his stalwart valet, Jeeves (Richard Nguyen Sloniker) have decamped from England for New York City, only to discover that Bertie's old pal Binkey (The oil-slicked Miguel Costellano) has been pretending to be Bertie, auditioning for a local theater production, and romancing the female lead, Ruby (Claire Marx). Ruby in turn is trying to elude her overly-protective producer, the wise guy Daniel "Knuckles" McCann (Tyler Matthew Campbell). Also dropped into the mix is strait-laced old girlfriend of Bertie's, Vivian Duckworth (Kelly Karcher) who wants to research the dens of iniquity in NYC, including speakeasies and, of course, the theater.

In other words, it has all the trappings and tropes of a Wodehouse production. New York is a regular venue for his stories, and the plot is a collection of colorful characters, mistaken identities, and travails for Bertie and solutions by Jeeves. The foolish master with the crafty, wise servant has been with use since the Roman Plautus if not before, and Wodehouse expands upon that fine tradition. And the plot in one familiar to fans of Wooster & Jeeves - Bertie gets into a tiff with Jeeves (in this case involving purple socks), then promptly gets himself in a jam which requires Jeeve's help, and Jeeves gets him out of the jam, but in a fashion that embarrasses and chastises Bertie.

Shilling's Bertie a likable mixture of good intentions and self-deprecation - he's aware of his shortcomings and leans into them, which makes him sympathetic as his well-meaning nature gets him more deeply involved in his predicament. Costellano's Binkey helps support Bertie in that Binkey is even more hapless and hopeless than Bertie. Marx's Ruby is pure brass, Karcher's prim Vivian is a delight, and Campbell thunders with just the right amount of threat as Knuckles. 

And through it all, the calm center is Sloniker's Jeeves, always there with a spot-on comment and chilled cocktail ready for delivery. Even in rough-and-tumble New York, Jeeves rises head and shoulders among his compatriots, and is the wise head that everyone recognizes and relies upon.

The lingo is completely 1920's argot, and you might find one or two lines among the Americans that do not reek of the era. The dialogue is fast and furious rolls through the entire stage as the actors throw themselves into the works and across the stage in bringing the page to life.

Kinetic, Frantic, Antic, Manic. Yep, that about sums it up. All in all an afternoon well-spent.

More later,