Matthew Reddin

Chamber Theatre’s “Jeeves Intervenes”

By - Aug 14th, 2010 03:04 pm

Crises! A British bachelor faces an undesired engagement. His best friend is to be forcibly sent to India. The living room needs dusting.

Quick, ring for Jeeves!

Jeeves Intervenes, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s season opener, is based on characters created by British writer P.G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse wrote an extensive series of Jeeves stories, about a droll genius of a valet adept at getting his master, Bertie Wooster, out of any and all scrapes.

Margaret Raether’s stage treatment opens with Jeeves (Matt Daniels) attempting to assist Eustace Bassington-Bassington (Rick Pendzich), a close friend of Bertie (Chris Klopatek). Eustace, in danger of being sent to India to learn some business sense, needs the use of the egregiously-wealthy Bertie’s house to impress the visiting Uncle Rupert (Peter Silbert) who is looking to send him away.

Bertie has problems of his own: His fierce Aunt Agatha (Laura Gordon) is coming to town and plans to have him engaged to a young woman named Gertrude Winklesworth-Bode (Alison Mary Forbes). While he can’t save Bertie from Agatha, Jeeves has managed to schedule everything just so; Bertie, Gertrude, and his aunt will be out of town by the time Eustace’s uncle arrives, allowing Eustace to pass off Bertie’s flat as his own.

Of course red-faced, blowhard Uncle Rupert shows up early.

The result is comedy that’s funny every way you look at it. The situation itself grows more comic every minute. Eustace falls head over heels for Gertrude, but when Bertie tries to tell her how Eustace feels, she takes it as Bertie’s proposal of marriage. Then Uncle Rupert (Silber’s reading conjures an image of a British, nightmarish Teddy Roosevelt) throws Bertie out of his own house, in a case of mistaken identity that requires a double portion of Jeeves’ ingenuity.

The actors’ physical comedy trumps this, though, and might be the element that elevates this play to a side-busting laughfest. The actors broadly overplay their their aristocrats, to great comedic effect. Klopatek and Pendzich are particularly notable for this, playing off each other and topping levels of ridiculousness as they shift from friends to foes to friends moment by moment.

As Jeeves, Daniels glides through the chaos and bluster to swoop in and save Bertie and Eustace from themselves. No hesitation or worry for Jeeves; the closest he gets to panic comes in the last moments of the play. He’s concerned that the soup tureen might spill all over the couch.

His manner of speech is an exquisite, consistent mix of irony, sarcasm and thinly-veiled amusement. Daniels is also funny when he’s not speaking, in something as subtle as the crook of a raised eyebrow or as unsubtle as the insistent ringing of a gong to get the attention of his bickering superiors (who are his superiors only in conventions of social caste).

In the end, Jeeves’ machinations ensure that Bertie, Eustace, and even Gertrude get what they really want. And we get what we want as well: good comedy.

As Jeeves says, “One endeavors to give satisfaction.”

Jeeves Intervenes runs through Aug. 29 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway. For tickets, call the BTC box office, 414 291-7800, or visit the MCT website.

Categories: A/C Feature 3, Theater

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