“It is impossible to be unhappy while reading the adventures of Jeeves and Wooster,” said the novelist Christopher Buckley. “And I’ve tried.”
It’s true. When you’re blue, in the full funk of November, worrying about bills and politics, it’s time for P.G. Wodehouse. In his tales, as in real life, the rich can be extremely stupid. But unlike in real life, they don’t harm anyone but themselves, and there’s always the super-intelligent butler Jeeves to make sure his hapless employer, Bertie Wooster, is protected from angry policemen, rampaging aunts and girls who want to improve his character.
All of this is related in a bubbly froth of English—with amiable but confused Bertie scrambling words and quotations and reassembling them at odd angles. Bertie tells us that an uncle may not be actually disgruntled, but he’s far from gruntled—and you marvel, as if you were watching someone stand on a ball and juggle swords.
This combination of wacky plot and gorgeously funny writing can be hard to reproduce on stage—there’s a temptation to rely too much on mugging and slapstick at the expense of the language. First Folio Theatre gets the Wodehouse genius exactly right with their exhilarating, literate and hilarious reprise of “Jeeves Intervenes,” originally mounted in 2008.
The script by Margaret Raether combines several tales, pushed together in a way that makes as much sense as any Jeeves story, meaning, not much and who cares? The plot follows Bertie (Christian Gray—reprising the role) and his struggles with his imposing Aunt Agatha (Jill Shellabarger), “she who chews broken bottles; she who kills rats with her teeth.” Aunt Agatha wants Bertie to marry Gertrude (played by Gray’s wife Lydia Berger Gray), an intimidating young woman who loves German philosophy. Bertie’s old school pal Eustace Bassington-Bassington (Nick Sandys) loves Gertrude, but lacks knowledge of Nietzsche. Eustace also is pretending to own Bertie’s flat to convince his Uncle Rupert (Ronald Keaton) that he’s rich. None of this is going to work without the interventions of Jeeves (Christopher John Grella), who has his own agenda—to stop Bertie from canceling their trip to Cannes.
All six actors perform this silliness with absolute conviction, which is necessary to make the farce machinery go. Grella is particularly effective as Jeeves, calm, smooth and logical—conducting Bach with a feather duster in a moment alone. Even when his lean, solemn face is still, you see him thinking, trying to solve everyone’s problems. Christian Gray and Nick Sandys are a joy to watch as upper-class twits, lovable despite having only about twenty IQ points between them. Both are terrific physical comedians, especially when they’re singing their school song or trying to woo Gertrude with quotes about moral philosophy.
Crisply directed by Michael Goldberg, the action takes place on a single set designed by Angela Weber Miller—a 1920s Art Deco-style London flat so lovely you’ll want to move in.
“Jeeves Intervenes” opens the twenty-fifth and final season for First Folio, which is ending with the retirement of executive artistic director David Rice. The house was packed for opening night—First Folio will be missed.
“Jeeves Intervenes,” First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 East 31st Street, Oak Brook, firstfolio.org. Through December 4.