Cocktail Time | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Cocktail Time


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Cocktail Time, City Lit Theater Company. Because City Lit has run out of good Jeeves and Bertie stories to adapt, it's now in its second season of mining the rest, if not the best, of P.G. Wodehouse, specifically the Uncle Fred books, which are less rollicking and farcical but equally packed with dotty Brits and droll narration. Cocktail Time recounts an intricate tale of the affable "fifth earl of good old Ickenham," a childlike prankster who manages to help two nephews contend with the usual Wodehouse crises: imminent scandal and frustrated romance. The result recalls those plate-twirling acts where the question is whether they can all be kept spinning. Regrettably, a few plates crash under the weight of Page Hearn's ardent adaptation. You can read the novel in several sittings, but at 150 minutes, this dramatization is a bit too faithful.

Thanks to Kevin Theis's deliciously dotty staging, the characters more than save the night. Smooth as silk, Don Bender plays omnicompetent Uncle Fred with the same delight in trickery that butler Jeeves feels but never shows. Jan Blixt is astonishingly diverse as a gangster moll, no-nonsense editatrix, neurotic airhead, and irascible nanny. Scott Kennedy plays a pompous peer and his lovesick valet with equal hilarity. And Thomas M. Shea once more proves himself Chicago's Nathan Lane, convulsing the crowd as a dithering, absent-minded publisher.

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