BWW Review: JEEVES TAKES A BOW at Oyster Mill Playhouse
Jeeves first appears in a series of English novels by P.G. Wodehouse. Jeeves, valet to Bertie Wooster, a rich young man, is truly the brains of the operation, assisting Bertie in disentangling himself from various predicaments. Jeeves appears in a multitude of manifestations from the 1990 television series Jeeves and Wooster starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie to films, radio shows, musicals, comics, and, perhaps most popular in the States, plays written by Margaret Raether. Jeeves Takes a Bow is the third in Raether's Jeeves series and comes to life on stage at Oyster Mill Playhouse now through September 1.
As always Oyster Mill does a great job setting the atmosphere right from the start. When audiences walk into the theatre, they see a starkly elegant room in shades of gray decorated with pieces of art and functional but lovely furniture. Audience members who have seen the previous Jeeves shows at Oyster Mill may note photos featuring scenes from the other shows-a fun Easter egg for frequent Oyster Mill patrons. The room is clearly that of a bachelor, with a dart board on the wall-featuring the photo of a woman in the center, which we later learn is his Aunt Agatha-and clothes strewn about. A round of applause to set designer Michael Hosler; Debbie Becky Toth, David Maletz, and Debbie Stephens of the props crew, and House of Becker for the set dressing.
The cast works extremely well together. Without just the right timing, parts of this show could easily fall flat, but this was certainly not an issue for this group of talented actors under the superb direction of Lois Heagy. Jeff Wasileski and Jim "Bluto" Fisher reprise their roles as Jeeves and Bertram "Bertie" Wilberforce Wooster. The interactions between these two actors feel natural and genuine. Wasileski's Jeeves is understated, precise, intelligent, and measured. His subtle facial expressions and line delivery are perfectly crafted for the dry British humor that makes Jeeves such a delightful character.
Bertie, played by Jim Fisher, is just about the exact opposite of Jeeves-he's larger than life, boisterous, vivacious, and despite his efforts to prove his maturity, seems incapable of caring for himself without assistance from the ever-faithful Jeeves. Fisher embodies the part of Bertie, using his posture, body language, expressions and energy to give authenticity to his character.
Throw Scott Long as Bertie's long-time friend Nigel Bingham "Binky" Bickersteth into the mix, and the recipe is perfect for lots of laughs. Long has perfected the combination of timid, dim, lovesick, and borderline helpless that makes up Binky. He particularly shines in his argument scene with Bertie act one and their chase/fight scene in act two.
Francesca Amendolia, Margaret Morris, and William O'Donnell round out the cast as Ruby Leroy, Vivienne Duckworth, and Daniel "Knuckles" McCann. McCann is an interesting character for two main reasons. First, he is completely different from the other male characters. Whereas the other male characters are very British in their demeanor and mannerisms, McCann is all New York mobster. Second, one of the big plot twists in the show (which you'll have to see for yourself) centers around the character of McCann, and O'Donnell does such a great job acting the role that the audience never sees it coming. O'Donnell approaches his character as the stereotypical mobster, and it is hilarious.
Francesca Amendolia takes on the role of Ruby Leroy and easily makes her one of my favorite characters in the show-she is brash and bold and takes charge of the room as soon as she makes her entrance. Amendolia plays this spitfire with her whole heart. The relationships between Ruby and the male characters are wonderfully developed. I particularly enjoyed her interactions with Jeeves.
The seemingly straight-laced Vivienne Duckworth is portrayed by Margaret Morris. Duckworth is perhaps one of the most difficult roles, as two different sides to her personality are on display during the course of the show. Through her careful use of expression and tone, Morris manages to give us some subtle hints about Vivienne's less genteel side as she talks about wanting to experience the more lurid aspects of the city. She handles Vivienne's transformation beautifully.
Jeeves Takes a Bow is a fast-paced show written with great intentionality, and it needs a cast and director who are up to the task of developing their characters and relationships with precision and energy. The cast and crew at Oyster Mill Playhouse definitely do not disappoint. I have not laughed this much during a show in a long time. If you could use a good laugh while enjoying a night of excellent talent, get your tickets for Jeeves Takes a Bow! Don't be a "quivering slab of gorgonzola", visit www.oystermill.com and order your tickets today.