Theater Review: Jeeves At Sea at NC Stage Co.
Just looking at Julie K. Ross’s set for Jeeves at Sea can bring a smile to theatergoers familiar with North Carolina Stage Company’s previous productions based on the stories by P.G. Wodehouse. It is the deck of a ship, with railings and loungers and, of course, three doors upstage for perfectly timed entrances and exits, one of them marked “Locker.”
It’s out of this middle door that one of the familiar characters from Wodehouse’s tales about flighty aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his unflappable valet Jeeves arrives and sets off this show’s madcap series of misunderstandings and manic panics.
This is NC Stage’s fourth production of a Wodehouse adaptation by modern playwright Margaret Raether (and, sadly, the last of Raether’s such works so far available). But no familiarity with previous shows is necessary, just as viewers could easily dip into and out of the long-running BBC series from the early 1990s, Jeeves and Wooster, which starred Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry.
This episode finds Bertie and Jeeves on a yacht owned by Lady Stella Vanderly (Carin Metzger) anchored off the coast of Monaco, where Bertie’s always troublesome pal Sir Percival Crumpworth, called Crumpet (Charlie Flynn-McIver), has had a drunken encounter with a prince he can’t quite recall. The incident brings aboard the German Count Otto Von Dietrichstein (Ryan Mitchell), who, it turns out, had a childhood romance with Stella’s companion, Miss Minerva Pilbeam (Paula O’Brien).
Offstage is the rich uncle from whom the perpetually poor Crumpet hopes to inherit and, possibly, an unexpected twin sibling, the news of whom inspires the kind of identity ploys and misunderstandings that are the scones-and-butter of the Jeeves yarns.
Casting is everything in recreating the formal yet frivolous world of Wodehouse, and (however one might argue about the relative ages of Wodehouse’s characters vs. the actors) NC Stage hit upon a winning combination three years ago and has stuck to it.
Michael MacCauley, who has brought such gravitas to the stage in shows like Angels in America and the recent Frost/Nixon, is the perfect Jeeves, simmering with repressed judgments that flicker ever so slightly across his face, generating laughs with the smallest twitch of exasperation and the expectation that Jeeves will know more and find solutions the aristocrats never could.
His foil is Scott Treadway as the haughty and spoiled Bertie, who likely couldn’t tie his shoes without Jeeves’ assistance. Comic master that he is, Treadway makes Bertie silly but never quite ridiculous, except perhaps in the wonderful sword duel with the Count that director Angie Flynn-McIver has staged so enjoyably.
Her direction keeps the show humming along without flagging (and without an intermission), with the support of an especially adept supporting cast, particularly O’Brien as the reserved yet romantically hopeful Miss Pilbeam (perhaps the best maiden servant’s name since Frau Blücher). Mitchell has the pleasure of playing the absurd Count at full goof, and Metzger is a fine match for Treadway as a woman committed only to the pleasures of the moment.
All are aided by lovely period costumes by Victoria Depew and by Bill Miller’s sea-evoking lighting design. Those impressive swords and the other props are by Kenneth Horgan, the sound design by Crumpet … that is, Charlie Flynn-McIver.
One hopes the Jeeves plays are something of a lark for Mr. Flynn-McIver, the company’s artistic director and co-founder, as he enjoyably debases himself in new ways as Crumpet in each Jeeves production. But in theater, whatever looks the easiest and breeziest is likely the most difficult to pull off. In that sense, Jeeves at Sea, for all its frivolity, is no less an accomplishment for N.C. Stage than last fall’s Frost/Nixon. But it does get more laughs.
Jeeves at Sea plays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 17, with additional Saturday matinees Feb. 9 and 16 at North Carolina Stage Company, 15 Stage Lane, Asheville. For tickets and more information, visit ncstage.org.
(Photo: NC Stage Co.)