Jeeves Saves the Day offers a midwinter escape | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Jeeves Saves the Day offers a midwinter escape

Bertie Wooster isn't the dimmest bulb onstage in First Folio's Wodehouse romp.

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If your patience with upper-class twits being bailed out by their underlings is thin these days, I understand. But if you're in desperate need of a midwinter romp and can put class consciousness to the side for a couple of hours, then First Folio Theatre's world premiere of Jeeves Saves the Day might provide a confectionary respite. 

It helps that this terrain is as comfortable for the suburban theater as Bertie Wooster's well-worn gray flannels. This marks the fifth outing since 2008 for P.G. Wodehouse's stories about Bertie and his redoubtable manservant, Jeeves, at the period-perfect Mayslake Peabody Estate. All have been adapted by Margaret Raether, who has an unfailing instinct for the rhythms of the dialogue and the shifting power dynamics in the narrative, which always involves charming dolt Bertie finding himself in a jam that only the choleric sensible Jeeves can set right.

Christian Gray and Jim McCance, who have played Bertie and Jeeves in each of the previous chapters, are by now thoroughly adept at conveying the polar-opposite temperaments that drive much of the comedy here. As in past adventures, Bertie is lazy and incurious (not to mention bibulous), but not the dumbest man onstage. That distinction here belongs to his cousin, Egbert (Dan Klarer), who has arrived at Bertie's seaside vacation cottage at the behest of their fearsome Aunt Agatha (Lucinda Johnston)—referred to variously as "Lady Caligula" and "the nephew crusher"—who plans to ship the financially insolvent Egbert off to a low-level job in South Africa.

Egbert has other ideas, including winning the hand of chanteuse Red Hot Maisie Dawson (Almanya Narula), which he believes is best accomplished by winning an idiotic scavenger hunt arranged by the local private men's club. This leads to a series of ridiculous visuals where Klarer's Egbert enters scenes carrying objects such as a stuffed goose and a large birdcage affixed to his back. Meantime, Bertie has somehow gotten himself engaged to a woman he doesn't wish to wed, despite Aunt Agatha's dark pronouncements that he will indeed get to the church on time if he wishes to keep clipping coupons from the various family trust funds. First, though, he has to convince the young woman's psychologist father, Sir Roderick Glossop (Sean Sinitski), of his fitness for matrimony. No easy task, given that one of Bertie's late uncles believed he was a rabbit.

Joe Foust's production takes a little while to find its feet and to lay out the backstory for all the characters. But once Klarer's Egbert is crashing around, putting the "id" in "idiot," it really takes off; I've not seen him in action before, and he has a marvelous gift for physical comedy that steals most of the scenes he's in. 

That's not to say that Gray and McCance are in any way sidelined. Rather, their reactions—especially Gray's—add texture and wit to the proceedings. Through his hangover haze (at one point, Bertie moans that he feels "like something the Pure Food Committee has rejected"), we see glimpses of Gray's devil-may-care aristocrat realizing that Egbert is what he might have been, had he not had the protections provided by Jeeves. McCance conveys quiet satisfaction in his own abilities to, well, save the day with just an occasional arched eyebrow and the flicker of a smirk.

The clash between Johnston's matriarch, whose practical iron-fist approach is undercut by her belief in spiritualism, and Sinitski's hilariously devoid-of-humor shrink, also lights the spark in a second-act seance, arranged by Jeeves as the unlikely answer to resolving all the complications. Visually, the show is also a stylish treat, thanks to Angela Weber Miller's sunny cottage setting and Rachel Lambert's detailed period costumes. Overall, seeing this show is like getting just a wee bit day-drunk on some lovely champagne, knowing that the hangover is going to be returning to our own current reality. If you need the break, Jeeves understands.  v

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