First Folio Theatre, that darling little company, in Oakbrook, is a treat when it comes to the offerings they bring to their theater, whether in the reshaped chapel of the Mayslake Peabody Estate or during the summer months on the grounds of this same treasured spot. They love to bring English comedy to their stage and have enjoyed great success with the wild characters written for the comic stage by Margaret Raether as she adapts the works of P.G. Woodhouse. Jeeves is such a character and has been seen on their Oakbrook stage in other classic comedies over the years. The new presentation, a Chicago Area premiere is “Jeeves at Sea” and features the exceeding strong Jim McCance as Jeeves. He is sheer perfection in this role and I can understand why director Alison C. Vesely continues to do the works of Wodehouse and this solid character.
The stage area at First Folio is quite small, as is the theater which makes for an intimate viewing. The smaller stage also restricts some of the action allowed to the director. In this type of comedy, doors opening and closing with actors flying in and out add to the comedy. Having limited space makes this just a bit harder as the two doors that are used are so close to each other it almost seems impossible that the people using them would not bump into each other. This is the third “Jeeves” show for this company and McCance with his dry humor and great face, makes the play work!
Let’s talk about the story. We are on a yacht, anchored in Monte Carlo. Bertie Wooster ( Christian Gray) is caught between the love he wishes to express for Lady Stella (played deliciously by Kate McDermott), but cannot because he is not “good enough for her father”. He is a sort of playboy with Jeeves as his Valet and an unknown source of income. His best friend, Percy Crumpworth (Andrew Behling creates a bit of a comic flurry in this role) believes that he has killed someone and has been informed that unknown to him, he has a twin brother who has been living in Africa all his life. When Count Otto ( a great comic role played by Joe Foust) comes searching for Percy, he pretends to be his long lost twin brother to avoid being hurt. (Behling is stronger as Alfie than as Percy).
Miss Stella has a female companion, Miss Minerva Pilbeam (deftly handled by Whitney Morse), who as it turns out has eyes for Jeeves, was also an old fling of Count Otto and thinking that Bertie just might be author Rosa M. Bank, finds herself attracted to him. There are some zany scenes in this silly old English comedy, but as I said earlier, the lack of stage size make sit difficult For Vesely to truly carry out all the slapstick that this play needs to have the audience rolling in the aisles. There are some funny moments in this play, but certainly not enough for me. Audience members who have been in the audience with me at a truly comic show, know I am there. At intermission, one of these people, stopped me to say she was concerned that she didn’t hear me. I explained that while I loved the story I did not think that they had the right timing and staging for it to be the comedy that would get me laughing. Even with Dale Benson!
Angela Weber Miller’s set is solid, again limited by the stage size. Christopher Kriz (sound), Greg Freeman (lights), Zach Wagner (costumes) and Kevin McKillip (movement) round out the technical people involved with making this show work. While I love First Folio as a company and the work they do, this is not as “up there” as I was expecting, but definitely is an enjoyable 2 hours of theater. “Jeeves at Sea” will continue through February 28th with performances as follows:
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Thursdays, February 11th, 18th and 25th 3 p.m.
Saturdays additional shows at 4 p.m. February 20th and 27th.
Tickets range from $29-$39 and can be ordered by calling 630-986-8067 or online at www.firstfolio.org
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Jeeves at Sea”.