The perfect 'Jeeves' blooms at Carpenter Square
Casting is always a director’s first and largest task; in finding the ideal actor to play the title role in Margaret Raether’s play “Jeeves in Bloom” (based on stories by P.G. Wodehouse) at Carpenter Square Theater, director Tom Cowley has hit a home run.
The unflappable “gentleman’s gentleman” is delivered on a silver platter by David Fletcher-Hall. His mobile and expressive features gave the audience a window into the demanding life of Jeeves as he shepherds his charge, Bertie Wooster, through the complexities of upper class life in early 20th century England.
Wooster is played with a genial bonhomie by Gregory Crall. Eager to flirt, and equally eager to avoid any permanent entanglements, Bertie depends on Jeeves to steer him through the demands of being a “good catch” who never wants to actually be caught.
Making this somewhat difficult is Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia Travers, played with demanding verve by Zaneen Hotchkiss. Dahlia needs Bertie to help her out of a financial jam, brought on by Dahlia’s gambling habits. Helping his aunt would land Bertie in danger at his uncle’s hands, although Dahlia believes that her husband can be safely got round.
Dahlia’s husband, Thomas Portarlington Travers, is delivered with a nice mix of bombast and belligerence by David Bryant. Tom tends to make his points with a rifle; this creates a set of potentially dangerous encounters between Mr. Travers and his guests.
In the role of hapless catalyst, Robert Benton does a very competent job as Augustus "Gussie" Fink-Nottle. Gussie, who is an expert on newts, is so socially inept that he has no idea how to communicate with Madeleine Bassett, the girl of his dreams, and he comes to Jeeves for help. Bertie, of course, steps in, especially when it transpires that Madeleine, played with charm by Stacy Casaluci, is staying with Aunt Dahlia.
Soon everyone is running around in Aunt Dahlia’s garden, often to avoid the cleaver and temper of the self-styled master chef, Anatole, performed with an outrageous French accent by Paul Tomlin.
The madcap mixups are well choreographed and structurally highly amusing, particularly when Bertie tries to help out. Eventually, it is left to Jeeves to untangle the messes, salve various versions of wounded pride, put the lovers in each others’ way, calm the insulted chef, and generally bring everyone home.
The garden set is exquisitely detailed and constructed by designer Ben Hall and scenic painters Hall and Ra’chel Lowery. Costume design by Rhonda Clark helps set us in the proper period, and the lighting by Jay Schardt and sound by Clark also do their part to keep us grounded.
If there is a nit to be picked, it is a rather small one: the presence of two genuine British voices makes the efforts of their American colleagues to sound English rather obvious. Consistency creates a coherent milieu; all the accents needed to be equally perfect or equally farcical. Fans of Wodehouse will find other nits to pick; the plot comes from a mash-up of three Wodehouse stories, and some elements may be altered more than a purist might like. Nonetheless, the story works, the performance is enjoyable, and the setting is lovely.
“Jeeves in Bloom” plays through April 25 at Carpenter Square Theater, 800 W. Main in Oklahoma City. Tickets can be ordered on line at www.carpentersquare.com, or purchased through the box office by calling 405-232-6500. Curtain is at 8 p.m. for Friday and Saturday.