REVIEW BY CARY GINELL
This month, Ventura County welcomes a new company, Cool Brittania, which plans to stage British-themed comedy and drama in VC theaters. The brainchild of longtime VC actor/director Terry Fishman, the company gets off to a “rippingly good” start with its presentation of the farce Jeeves in Bloom, which plays through June 29 at the Elite Theatre Company in Oxnard.
Written by Margaret Raether, the play honors the works of P. G. Wodehouse, the playwright who created the role of Jeeves, the all-knowing, responsible, and ever-so-polite valet for the foppish man-about-town Bertie Wooster in countless short stories and novels published by Wodehouse between 1915 and 1974. Raether has made a cottage industry of keeping Wodehouse’s characters alive through a trilogy of plays featuring Bertie and Jeeves, of which Jeeves in Bloom is the second in the series.
The story is pure fluff. Bertie Wooster’s snooty aunt Dahlia is in desperate need of funds to print her weekly woman’s magazine after blowing all her money on baccarat. Rather than ask her volatile husband Tom to pawn her expensive jewelry to pay the printing costs, she decides instead to burglarize herself, with the help of Bertie, and sell the jewelry, so she wouldn’t have to ask Tom’s permission and risk raising his ire. In a secondary plot, Bertie’s mousy pal Gussie Fink-Nottle (Travis Winterstein), who has a passion for the study of newts, is all a-flutter over flighty Madeline Basset, but can’t summon up the nerve to tell her so. (“You’re in love with a mammal?” Bertie asks him, incredulously) Add to this a loony French chef with a hair-trigger temper and you have what becomes a knot of misunderstandings and chaos that only the unflappable Jeeves can untangle.
J. Paul Zimmerman plays Bertie, the dim-witted, pip-pip, stiff-upper-lip, upper crust Brit, and his performance is utterly delightful. Jeeves, played by the redoubtable David Gilchrist, bails him out of every predicament through careful, reasoned logic, as his character traditionally prescribes. Kathleen Silverman, who we recently saw as the school-marmish Aunt Polly in the High Street Arts Center’s production of Tom Sawyer, is appropriately haughty as Aunt Dahlia. Allison Chase Williams plays the dippy debutante Madeline, who mistakes Gussie’s cooing to his pet newt (also named Madeline) for a love sonnet directed to her. Chris Carnicelli, who is prone to playing either grumpy or volatile types, is right in his element in dual roles: as the dyspeptic Tom Travers and as Anatole, the explosive chef who is France’s answer to Seinfeld‘s Soup Nazi. With his glass-shattering shrieks and bug-eyed facial expressions, Carnicelli is either hefting a shotgun or a meat cleaver as he threatens mayhem to anyone who challenges his authority.
Set to music, Raether’s story is silly enough to become a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, but as a play, Jeeves in Bloom is a classic knockabout comedy in the grand tradition of British farce, with not enough substance to become a classic, but enjoyable enough to warrant an entertaining evening out.
Jeeves in Bloom plays through June 29 at the Elite Theatre Company in Oxnard. For directions, dates, and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar or click on the Elite Theatre Company ad for ticket information.