“Jeeves Intervenes” — ★ ★ ★ ½
In my 2008 review of First Folio Theatre’s hugely entertaining “Jeeves Intervenes” — the first in a wonderful series of P.G. Wodehouse tales staged by the Oak Brook theater — I described Margaret Raether’s adaptation as dry as a well-made martini, and equally potent.
Fourteen years later, First Folio’s revival is equally intoxicating. That comes as no surprise as the production marks First Folio’s sixth staging of a Raether adaptation of a tale by the famed British humorist, who chronicled the misadventures of the fictional aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves in a series of short stories.
Wodehouse’s tales center around the devil-may-care bachelor and his unflappable employee, who is frequently called upon to extricate his employer from awkward and embarrassing encounters, many of which result from relatives’ attempts to marry off the marriage-averse Bertie.
The unflappable Jeeves (Christopher John Grella), second from right, resolves the comic mayhem that ensnares Gertrude (Lydia Berger Gray), left, Eustace (Nick Sandys) and his Uncle Rupert (Ron Keaton) in First Folio Theatre’s “Jeeves Intervenes.” – Courtesy of Tom McGrath
Raether reflects Wodehouse’s wit and wordplay in a vivid, very funny adaptation that artfully pairs silliness and sophistication, the expression of which First Folio mastered years ago under the late artistic director and co-founder Alison C. Vesely. Vesely’s zestful staging of the original “Jeeves Intervenes” set a standard for the shows that followed, a standard director Michael Goldberg deftly maintains in his merry revival.
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Ensemble member Christian Gray plays the delightfully dim, endlessly endearing Bertie in the 1920s-set comedy that centers around his attempt to help out an old school chum while also avoiding his aunt’s matchmaking. His efforts land him in hot water, which necessitates that Jeeves (Christopher John Grella) intervene to turn down the heat.
Bertie Wooster (Christian Gray) tries to extricate himself from the clutches of Aunt Agatha (Jill Shellabarger) in First Folio Theatre’s sparkling “Jeeves Intervenes.” – Courtesy of Tom McGrath
This marks the sixth time the ideally cast, wonderfully playful Gray has portrayed Bertie in a First Folio production. Previously, he starred opposite Jim McCance’s nicely deadpan Jeeves. The dynamic duo was set to reprise their roles until a family emergency forced McCance to bow out.
Days before the first preview, Grella stepped in, admirably filling the role of the imperturbable gentleman’s gentleman described as “the brains of the family.” His understated performance and placid expression perfectly suits a character whose calm demeanor masks a keen mind. Watch Grella’s eyes to witness how quickly Jeeves is able to size up Bertie’s predicament and devise a way out of it.
Nick Sandys plays Bertie’s hapless school chum Eustace Bassington-Bassington (or Basie), whose wealthy uncle Sir Rupert (a nicely blustery Ron Keaton) threatens to send him to India unless he can prove he’s successful, which he is not. To further the deception, he convinces Bertie to lend him his apartment (a gorgeous, urbane interior by set designer Angela Weber Miller) during his uncle’s visit. Funny, physical and appropriately befuddled, Sandys (a prototypical Tom Stoppard principal if ever there was) is a delight.
To kick off its final season, First Folio Theatre remounts “Jeeves Intervenes,” Margaret Raether’s delightful farce adapted from P.G. Wodehouse’s stories. Director Michael Goldberg’s cast includes Lydia Berger Gray, left, Jill Shellabarger, Christian Gray and Nick Sandys. – Courtesy of Tom McGrath
Reprising their roles from First Folio’s first “Jeeves Intervenes” are Jill Shellabarger and Lydia Berger Gray. Shellabarger is deliciously sarcastic as the imperious Aunt Agatha — “she who chews broken bottles, she who kills rats with her teeth.” Rounding out the cast is Berger Gray, savvy and self-assured as Gertrude, who Agatha intends her nephew to wed, over his objections and those of Basie, who’s smitten with the philosophy-loving Gertie.
There are fine comedic performances all around in Goldberg’s often madcap revival, yet I left the Mayslake Peabody Estate on opening night feeling wistful, knowing this is the last time I’ll experience Bertie and Jeeves at First Folio. I will miss them and the theater company that so brilliantly brought them to the stage.