Curtain Call: Jeeves & Wooster turn ‘Perfect Nonsense’ into slapstick magic

Perfect Nonsense
Perfect Nonsense

Hartford Stage, Hartford: “Perfect Nonsense” has more than a fair share of the wow factor. When the Goodale Brothers decided to write a new play from the works of P.G. Wodehouse, an English humor writer and creator of Jeeves, a gentleman’s valet, they not only kept the integrity of Wodehouse, but turned his humorous style and language into hilarious comedy. The use of language in “Perfect Nonsense” is intelligent and witty. Characters are even funnier than Mrs. Bouquet of “Keeping Up Appearances” and those in “Fawlty Towers.” This is English comedy at its best and it arrives from its Olivier award-win in England to its American debut in Connecticut at the Hartford Stage.

Mind you, every facet of this gem is cleverly created. This means that along with the extraordinary additions to a simple set and gender defining costumes, everything in front of your eyes changes almost magically. Where else will you find an eight- or nine-foot character hiding his head like a turtle in order to make it through a doorway? Where else will you find one actor playing both a man and a woman simultaneously onstage chatting with each other?
There are three master actors in this cast. Chandler Williams plays Bertie with enough charm to screw up royally and still look smart. His charm is silky smooth. I’m still trying to figure out how he manages to move his long lanky legs in such a way that they resemble one of those inflatable advertising figures that blows around in front of a car dealership. Arnie Burton not only plays the ever ingenious Jeeves, but he also plays multiple other characters. So, too, Eddie Korbich as Seppings, a butler with less polish than Jeeves, plays several other comic characters. The split-second costume changes are a marvel. It’s theater magic all the way.
As for the set, it grows from a backstage chair and fringed lamp to two grand English estates. With each addition to the revolving set that keeps unfolding into something bigger and distinctly different, audiences applause enthusiastically, appreciating the creativity involved with a painting that features hounds in one room, and with the twist of a crank becomes a fine floral impressionist work. Expect to witness a car built on stage right in front of your eyes. Ingenious here is an understatement.
It all starts with British upper class Bertie Wooster thinking that he can turn his ridiculous escapades involving his wealthy friends and aunt into a one-man show in America. He hasn’t thought the idea through, but thinks that anyone can act — so how hard can it be? When he actually is on stage, he is at a complete loss. That’s when his trusty valet, Jeeves comes to the rescue by offering props and lines. His aunt wants Bertie to steal a sterling silver creamer that is in the shape of a cow and his friend has problems with his future father-in-law.
Alice Power gets credit and kudos for her brilliant set and costume designs. Sean Foley directs the piece with vibrant strokes of comic color punctuated by Philip Rosenberg’s lighting design and John Gromada’s sound effects. No one leaves the audience without wearing a smile for this production. It plays through April 20. Box office: 860-527-5151.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: