Need a smile? Say Jeeves. No butler ever butled better than the one British-born humorist P.G. Wodehouse created as deadpan comic foil for ditzy upper-crust bachelor Bertie Wooster. The characters, and several silly companions, come gloriously, hilariously to the fore in the farcical Right Ho, Jeeves, now playing as the season opener at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas.
The star of the show, Regan Adair, acts his fool head off as Bertie. He's a sensation, giving a full-wallop performance front and center in every scene. Antic as a cartoon rooster, Adair arches his body into impossible positions as his Bertie reacts in mock horror to the misbehavior of those around him. He's a younger, prettier Basil Fawlty, never funnier than when losing his patience at the drop of a pin.
Right Ho, Jeeves makes Bertie the constant storyteller. He ducks in and out of short scenes, talking to the audience directly in Wodehouse's quirky, high-flown prose. To wit: There was one of those long silences. Pregnant, I believe, is what they're generally called. Aunt looked at butler. Butler looked at aunt. I looked at both of them. An eerie stillness seemed to envelop the room like a linseed poultice.
Funny enough on the page, if you're in a Wodehousian frame of mind. But Adair gooses it a notch by inserting a well-timed pregnant pause and then dropping his voice an octave to blurt "linseed POULtice." Perfection.
Adair's madcap energy as Bertie is balanced by the spooky calm of Jeeves, played solidly by Gary Taggart. Wodehouse wrote that Jeeves moved into rooms "like a healing zephyr." That effect is achieved on designer Wade J. Giampa's set with walls made of silk damask draperies, through which Taggart's Jeeves slips like a tuxedoed eel. The butler's there and not there in a blink of an eye.
Around the main characters swirl a batty Aunt Dahlia (the booming, bosomy Susan McMath Platt), a teetotaling herpetologist named Gussie Fink-Nottle (Mark Shum), two flirty girls (Jessica Wiggers, Jenae Yerger-Glanton), a pie-gobbling tub called Tuppy Glossup (Randy Pearlman) and a temperamental French chef (Reg Platt). They all gather in their bedclothes in the garden one night in a situation created by Bertie and resolved by the unflappable Jeeves.
Rich people who act like idiots were the stock in trade of Wodehouse, who shot across the pond in the 1920s to collaborate with Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin on Broadway musicals. Jeeves and Wooster already were part of his vast arsenal of cut-ups in popular stories pitting well-born English airheads against the cunning plans of Jeeves, the ultimate gentleman's gentleman. The very name Jeeves has since become synonymous with the image of problem-solver. It has been co-opted for an Internet search engine, a robotic vacuum and scads of other products that aim to serve.
The Jeeves and Wooster stories played well in a British sitcom starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (the actor now better known as Dr. House on the Fox medical drama) but flopped in a musical adaptation by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn. Chicago playwright Mark Richard has had good luck adapting Wodehouse for the stage, including Right Ho, Jeeves. No need for singing; Wodehouse's writing style plays its own music.
If there's one thing Contemporary Theatre does best, it's make its actors look theirs. Costumer Aaron Patrick Turner decks out Bertie and the other swells in elegantly tailored suits and gowns, period-perfect spats and Jazz Age hairstyles that flatter the faces. Even the stagehands who trot on and off wear cute below-stairs outfits. Russell K. Dyer's lighting design is simple and smart. Lowell Sargeant's sound design pipes in bouncy ragtime tunes.
This Right Ho hove over from a hit run at Fort Worth's Stage West, at least in part. They both were directed by Jerry Russell and share star Regan Adair. Maybe these two theaters should co-produce another Jeeves starring Adair and Taggart each season. Mahvelous, dahling, simply mahvelous.
From the manor houses of Jeeves to the trailer homes of Armadillo Acres for The Great American Trailer Park Musical, getting another go in a reprise at Addison's WaterTower Theatre. The show was an audience fave at last spring's Out of the Loop Festival and returns with its loopy cast intact.
Composer David Nehls' twangy ballads and closely harmonized patter songs enjoy a good comic going-over by stars Sara Shelby-Martin, Cara Statham Serber, Megan Elizabeth Kelly, Patty Breckenridge and Stacey Oristano. The first three play the chorus of slob-sisters who slop around between trailers spying on their weird neighbors and telling the audience what they've seen.
Breckenridge is Jeannie Garstecki, an agoraphobic hausfrau whose baby disappeared 20 years earlier and whose dream is to get out of the double-wide to see Ice Capades before she dies. Oristano is Pippi, a pigeon-toed stripper who takes up with Jeannie's bumbling husband, Norbert (Jim Johnson). Pippi's highlighter-huffing ex, Duke, is played by Andy Baldwin with more twitches and jumps than a frog on a hot plate.
Director James Paul Lemons, who sometimes gives the casts of musical comedies too much leeway in their performances, doesn't have to worry about anyone exaggerating in Trailer Park. The crazier the better in this show, which might remind you of Little Shop of Horrors, without the big houseplant.
Expanding to a full production means a bigger, more detailed set—suggestions of side-by-side manufactured housing parked in an ugly chunk of Florida—by designer John Hobbie. Lighting by David Natinsky is hit and miss, meaning the shaky follow spot often hits the wrong places and misses the actors. Costumer Michael A. Robinson never saw a hideous outfit he couldn't make more hideous. Lucky for him the characters in Trailer Park are supposed to be fashion disasters.
Instead of sparkling witticisms, the jokes in Betsy Kelso's script for this comedy run toward the rip-roaringly rude. "Ron-daze-vooz," says Cara Serber's character, Lin, whose husband's on death row. "That's French fer fuckin'."
The Twilight of the Golds, now running at Uptown Players, and Shining City, the latest at Undermain Theatre, speak their own weird languages. Both are weighty with serious verbiage, giving with the blah-blah till you think they'll never shut up.
Twilight's family of unlikable Jewish liberals—a geneticist, his wife, her gay brother and parents—give lip service to tolerance until it gets personal. The wife learns through experimental gene mapping that her unborn child probably will be gay (though playwright Jonathan Tolins chooses to phrase it as "like your brother"). Her parents are horrified at the idea of another one of those running around. Her brother, an opera nut who quotes tiresomely from Wagner's Ring Cycle, equates aborting the fetus with negating his whole life.
Every character gets an indulgent, melodramatic monologue in Twilight, which drags on till sunrise with its emotional sturm und drang. Only one of the performances—Joe Nemmers as the genetics expert—manages to make Tolins' words sound natural or interesting. As the wife, Jody Rudman is as clenched as her hair, which falls over her small face in thick, frizzy drizzles. Frances Fuselier and Lois Sonnier Hart are all bluster as the parents. Clayton Ferris hits one shrill note after another as the brother. All issues aside, this is a family that should be stopped from expanding at all costs.
A dead wife's ghost is what John (Bruce DuBose), the main character in Shining City, talks about as he sits on the couch of an inexperienced therapist (Anthony L. Ramirez). Speaking in sing-songy bad Irish accents, DuBose and Ramirez struggle with 90 minutes of Irish writer Conor McPherson's sentence fragments and repetitive interjections of "you know" and "I mean."
Nothing much happens in this play, which presumably is why Undermain's doing it. They seem to specialize in inert dramas. DuBose just stares straight ahead, letting his left eyebrow do the emoting while the rest of his body goes slack. It's the opposite of what Regan Adair's achieving in his performance over at Right Ho, Jeeves. Adair is off-the-scale "ert," which is infinitely more entertaining.
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