BWW Review: JEEVES INTERVENES at Oyster Mill
When P.G. Wodehouse first presented Bertram "Bertie" Wooster and his all-knowing, all-problem-solving valet, Jeeves, to the world at the beginning of the first World War, he had no idea of the enduring popularity his creations would have. Admittedly, comic tales of a master whose servant is far more intelligent than he date back to ancient Greek and Roman satire, but Jeeves and Wooster seem to have encapsulated the genre. It's little surprise that Wodehouse's tales were turned into stage plays by Margaret Raether; it's more surprising that Wodehouse didn't do it himself.
Once again, Oyster Mill Playhouse has one of Raether's adaptations on the boards, this time JEEVES INTERVENES. And once again, Oyster Mill has brought back Jeff Wasileski as the indomitable Jeeves and Jim Fisher as the somewhat less indomitable, but never mean-spirited, Bertie Wooster. Once again, Jeeves saves Bertie from marriage, the fate worse than death, unites a lovestruck couple that fortuitously does not include Bertie, and circumambulates one of Bertie's meddling aunts, this time Aunt Agatha (Kathy Luft). Lois Heagy directs the shenanigans with aplomb, and possibly with a stiff drink handed to her by Jeeves to help her survive the characters' stunts.
Mark L. Scott plays Bertie's wastrel friend (how many wastrel friends can a young man about town have?) Eustace, whom Jeeves is already assisting in deluding his uncle Sir Rupert (Jeff Cartwright) as to employment and residence. Scott is the leaping, bounding, and perpetually tripping and tumbling physical comedy of the show, a man who can take a pratfall with the best of them. He's also capable of taking Eustace's lovestruck attitude to comic heights of inane speechlessness. Resign yourself early on that he will never recite his love sonnet dedicated to Gertrude (Stephanie Trdenic), and realize that it's for the best that it never be heard.
How a plot can be as complex as Jeeves' plotting and the universe's meddling, while at the same time being gossamer-thin, a mere Wodehousian excuse for unbridled silliness, may forever remain a mystery. Attempts to describe it past the bare bones of "Jeeves rescues Bertie from marriage again, unites a lovestruck couple, deals with everyone's relatives, sorts out all their mishaps, and never spills a drop of tea or brandy no matter how dire things seem" can only confuse the details, though it hides the riotous goings-on of the show, including the Aunt Agatha/Sir Rupert wrestling-cage death match, Gertrude's passion for modern German philosophy, and Jeeves' continually-foiled efforts to serve the soup course - perhaps the only thing that Jeeves is unable to accomplish.
One of the great difficulties of Oyster Mill's JEEVES productions is that no actor in the area will be allowed to play Jeeves in any productions now that Wasileski has become the definitive Jeeves. In bearing, in deportment, in unperturbed expression, Wasileski owns the part conclusively. It's gratifying to see a character so perfectly cast, but it certainly places a burden on anyone else trying to play the part. Further, Wasileski and Fisher have a delicious comic chemistry of straight man and clown that makes the roles look far too easy to play.
Lois Heagy's set design is nicely executed, providing some unexpected delights when the props come out. The Chinese gong plays a much larger role than might be expected, as does the settee, a particular foil of Eustace's.
On stage at Oyster Mill Playhouse, Camp Hill, through November 19, if the cage wrestling matches between Bertie and Eustace and between Aunt Agatha and Sir Rupert don't bring down the rafters at the playhouse. Prepare to laugh until it hurts. Visit oystermill.com for tickets and information.