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Friday, August 20th, 2010

Time Event
10:56a
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, “Jeeves Intervenes”
When you’re a big fan of P.G. Wodehouse, and a local theater group is staging a play based on the “Jeeves and Wooster” stories, then one guesses that there’s nothing to do but pull out the jolly Drones Club tie, pop on the old bowler hat, and rally round, eh, what?

That’s exactly what Georgie and I did Wednesday night the 18th, for the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of “Jeeves Intervenes.” (I had the hat and tie; Georgie was very elegant in a black and white Canvasbacks jacket and skirt ensemble--.) The script, by Margaret Raether, is freely adapted from the Jeeves canon, and combines two of the well-tried plotlines: on the one hand, Bertie is trying to avoid his Aunt Agatha’s plans to marry him off; and on the other hand, Jeeves and Wooster have been called upon to help one of Bertie’s fellow Drones out of the “soup” he’s gotten himself into. As usual, Jeeves provides the primary brainpower, but Bertie makes the sacrifices. The play is lively and entertaining, with only a few clinkers noticeable by die-hard Wodehouse fans such as myself. For example, Bertie’s troubled friend is named “Eustace Bassington-Bassington.” In the Jeeves stories, Eustace is the name given to Bertie’s “tick” of a cousin, who is not someone Bertie willingly does favors for, let alone considers a chum.

Chris Klopatek plays Bertie, and Rick Pendzich plays Eustace, and both “young gentlemen” mug and clown for the audience appropriately with great comic timing and skill. Matt Daniels was unflappable and smooth as Jeeves, although I was a bit disappointed that the production decided to go with the “deadpan” Jeeves, rather than the more collegial Jeeves exemplified by Stephen Fry. However, as the action speeds up, Jeeves loosens up somewhat also. Laura Gordon had the role of Bertie’s formidable Aunt Agatha with fair presence, but had to work to dominate her scenes as she should. Her vocal instrument does not allow her the full-throated bellowing and hooting described by Wodehouse, so she fell back on a gruff and growling characterization. Alison Mary Forbes did very well playing Gertrude Winklesworth-Bode, a not entirely comfortable amalgam of Wooster would-be fiancées: a serious-minded take-charge young woman intent on “molding” her husband, but who breaks out into occasional episodes of “flirty Girtie” flibbertigibbets. The cast was rounded out by Peter Silbert as Sir Rupert Watlington Pipps, Eustace’s uncle, who is a choleric “Colonel Blimp” intent on making something out of his nephew.

Comedic timing causes the two plotlines to collide and intertwine in the best farce manner and resulted in a very enjoyable and funny evening of theater.

Production values were generally very high. The set, representing the living room of Wooster’s Mayfair flat, was truly beautiful and so real looking one could move right in. Incidental music was a soundtrack of energetic jazz-age classics that set a nice tone.

Costuming, however, was another matter. Jeeves fans know that Jeeves is NOT a “butler”, but a valet, or “gentleman’s personal gentleman.” So, why do we see Jeeves in full butler fig, with cutaway coat and striped trousers? And SPATS? I don’t think Jeeves would ever wear spats, let alone with the point collar shirt he is wearing through most of the play, although with the wing collar used in the last scene they are somewhat less unlikely.

The “young gentlemen’s” wardrobes are mostly appropriate (appropriately awful, in Eustace’s case) but under no circumstances could I imagine Jeeves allowing Bertie to commit the solecism of being seen to wear WHITE SOCKS with full dinner dress (something Eustace does also--).
Aunt Agatha’s outfits seem a bit eccentric, but then, so is she. Gertie has an appropriate day ensemble, and a lovely period cocktail gown for the dinner scene.

Sir Reginald is one ongoing sartorial disaster. Even though he is evidently a retired officer of the Indian Army, there is no excuse for his appearing in London wearing short trousers. Going out for a luncheon (presumably informal, since he is wearing a business suit) he has on his full decorations and a hat that should only be worn with a Turkish dressing gown in the privacy of one’s smoking room. Full medals and sash might be worn to the officer’s reunion dinner, but they would not be displayed on a khaki field jacket. How much of this was intentional is uncertain, but it makes the character clownish in an unnecessary fashion.

Was it great theater? No. Was it very good, a lot of fun, and well worth going to? Yes, definitely.

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