Jeeves Intervenes: A Sweaty Sort of Wodehouse

The funniest joke in Taproot’s Jeeves Intervenes, Margaret Raether’s mosaic of choice bits from P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie-and-Jeeves novels and short stories, concerns the way one character’s name is pronounced. (I won’t spoil the surprise.) A joke so airy and subtle it’s not apparent on the page, only as spoken—that’s Wodehouse’s method: maximum comic effect with minimum visible labor. He even instilled this attitude in his immortal odd couple: Bertie Wooster, the original upper-class twit, abhorrer of effort in any sphere, especially mental; and Jeeves, his gentleman’s gentleman and perennial ass-saver, paragon of decorum.

With all these models to emulate, why does the cast—except for Chris Ensweiler’s unflappable Jeeves—put so much muscle and sweat into the show? Of course comedy is hard work, but should we see it, especially in Wodehouse? All the strenuousness here is on the surface: frenetic gesturing, mugging, and blocking, and laugh line after laugh line not trusted to land on its own, but somehow goosed or tweaked. The cast’s unflagging energy is admirable, but a more sophisticated or stylish take on the material would make Raether’s spruce script truly delectable. The one scene in which passion breaks through the characters’ upper-crust crust, and thus where a knockabout approach really pays off, is (Bertie’s pal) Eustace and (Bertie’s would-be fiancée) Gertrude’s discovery of their mutual attraction. David Roby and Melanie Hampton let loose here and earn laughs fully equal to their exertion.

JEEVES INTERVENES Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., 781-9707, $20–$40. 7:30 p.m. Wed.–Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat. Ends June 13.

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