Chicago Theater Review: JEEVES IN BLOOM (ShawChicago at the Ruth Page Center)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 5, 2018

in Theater-Chicago


Like manna from the heavens, it comes when we’ve never needed to laugh more: The invaluable comic master P.G. Wodehouse returns from the Roaring Twenties to the rescue of the Troubled Teens: That delightfully co-dependent duo—Jeeves and Bertie–are up to no boredom again: In ShawChicago’s delightful concert reading of Wodehouse’s Jeeves in Bloom, acutely adapted by Margaret Raether, the tomfoolery is terrific. That archetypal upper-class twit–wimp/simp Bertie Wooster (mopily mugging Christian Gray)–gets his patrician puss into intricate shenanigans from which only Jeeves (impassive Doug MacKechnie), his soft-spoken, resourceful manservant, can extricate him.

As consummately directed by Robert Scogin at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, Gray brings dithering dexterity to narrator/perpetrator Bertie, a duffer whose skewering by the saps around him is as funny as the slapstick story. MacKechnie depicts wily Jeeves with a superiority so cleverly camouflaged it looks like fake dependence.

Hilariously catastrophic, the 135-minute romp takes place at Brinkley House, the country home of Bertie’s dowager Aunt Dahlia, an imperious relative who thoroughly disapproves of her nebbish nephew. But, like so many before, she desperately depends on Bertie’s infallibly efficient manservant Jeeves to save the day and the night too.

Dahlia (a stentorian Mary Michell) needs money to continue her women’s magazine The Lady’s Boudoir. She knows she can’t get it from her disapproving, pinch-penny husband Thomas Travers (dourly grumbling Jack Hickey). So she gets Bertie to join her for the weekend and attempt a diamond heist of her husband’s own regalia, the goods to be fenced and pawned for the sake of her publication.

Meanwhile, Bertie finds himself the object of unwanted ardor from the wretchedly romantic ingenue Madeline Basset (simpering Allison Selby Cook). This bluestocking ninny is in turn craved by Bertie’s imbecilic classmate August Fink-Nottle (a constantly flustered Gary Alexander). A “newt fancier,” “Gussie,” an incoherently shy lover, only waxes eloquent when he contemplates his beloved salamanders, one of whom manages to go missing in the worst way.

Of course, it’s up to the resourceful, self-effacing, and wonder-working Jeeves to rescue Aunt Dahlia from her literary losses, straighten out and Bertie and Gussie’s convoluted entanglements with fairy-loving Madeline—and sort things out with Anatole (Matt Penn), a temperamental French chef with a swift knife who’s the only one who can minister to dyspeptic Thomas’ stomach tribulations.

The madcap complications merrily multiply as genius Wodehouse piles on the problems. Happily, thanks to Wodehouse’s wizard plot construction, the crises in effect cure themselves, with one character’s excess the solution to another’s absurdity.

Reciting from movable podia, Scogin’s seven superb thespians totally commit to their deft caricatures of enduring British stereotypes. Masterfully passive-aggressive with a devilishly deadpan delivery, MacKechnie’s dry, decisive Jeeves (who at times comes perilously close to mumbling) is the perfect foil for Gray’s Bertie, a silly ass who perversely doubles up in stubbornness to match his cluelessness.

The supporting players are cameo cartoons etched to perfection. No one comes close to Wodehouse at purveying good fun and triggering healthy guffaws without, like so many humorists, resorting to mean-spirited nastiness, snobbish condescension, or pandering to the public.

photos courtesy of ShawChicago

Jeeves in Bloom
ShawChicago Theater Company
Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St
Feb 5 at 2; Feb 10 at noon; Feb 11 at 1; Feb  12 at 7; Feb . 17 at noon;
Feb 18 at 1; Feb  19 at 7; Feb  24 at noon; Feb 25 at 1; Feb. 26 at 7
ends on February 26, 2018
for tickets, call 312.587.7390 or visit ShawChicago

for more Chicago Theater info, visit Theatre in Chicago

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