REVIEW: Jeeves in Bloom (First Folio)

Overblown ‘Jeeves in Bloom’ grows on you

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First Folio Theatre presents:

Jeeves in Bloom

By Margaret Raether
Based on the characters of
P.G. Wodehouse
Directed by
Alison C. Vesely
At the
Mayslake Peabody Estate, Oak Brook
Through Feb. 28 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

In the opening scene of First Folio Theatre’s Jeeves in Bloom, the characters pursue each other around the garden set in a goofy, stylized chase scene so exaggerated it made me want to run out of the theater. The broad, affected campiness Director Alison C. Vesely has imposed on this Equity production really put me off at first, but after a while, the show began to grow on me.

Margaret Raether’s script does P.G. Wodehouse proud. Loosely grafted and considerably pruned from the British author’s 1922 comic novel “Right Ho, Jeeves,” and light as dandelion fluff, this Chicagoland comedy premiere revolves around the amiable but asinine Bertie Wooster, a London man about town, and his keen-witted  gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves. Bertie’s old school-chum Gussie Fink-Nottle, a painfully tongue-tied nerd with a passion for newts, has unaccountably fallen in love jib3with a dippy debutante called Madeline Bassett, a sappily romantic girl who believes in fairies, and appealed to Bertie and Jeeves for advice on wooing her. Meanwhile, Bertie’s intrepid Aunt Dahlia enlists the duo’s aid in stealing her own diamonds as a means of hiding her gambling losses from her irascible and dyspeptic husband, Tom Travers. However, their schemes inadvertently entwine Bertie with Madeline and touch off the Travers’ volatile French chef, Anatole, with disastrous consequences for Tom’s digestion. (James Leaming doubles as the bluff Tom Travers and excitable Anatole so ably that I didn’t realize he wasn’t two actors until only one of him turned up for ovations.)

Kevin McKillip’s portrayal of Gussie Fink-Nottle really won me over. As he moaned, “If only I were a male newt!” and bodily demonstrated the mating habits of the minute amphibians, I twigged to the value of the histrionic approach. McKillip’s expressive face and physical comedy constantly delight.

Christian Gray’s hammed-up rendition of Bertie takes some getting used to. With McKillip, Leaming and Melanie Keller as Madeline all chewing the scenery, one would think Bertie could be more understated. When he’s not spitting chunks of backdrop, Gray comes off admirably Woosterian. And my reaction to his over-the-top mugging is perhaps not entirely Gray’s or the director’s fault.

Chicago-area Wodehouse lovers must be forgiven if the vision of Bertie and Jeeves imprinted indelibly on our brains is that of Mark Richard and the late Page Hearn, who played those roles with brilliantly nuanced humor over some nine years at City Lit Theatre. They’re a tough act to follow.

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Jim McCance, in what seems like a rather small role for the title character, presents an older, stouter and stiffer Jeeves than Hearn’s (or the image drawn in the iconic Penguin paperbacks by Ionicus), but his deadpan tone and facial expressions are impeccable.

However, the real stars of this production are McKillip and Jeannie Affelder as Aunt Dahlia. Although I always picture Dahlia as an Englishwoman of the large, horsey and hearty type, the diminutive Affelder dominates the stage in a smart and subtly comic performance.

Everything about this production shows an attention to detail, from Elsa Hiltner’s period costumes to the stage properties. Scenic Designer Angela Miller has beautifully integrated a garden terrace into the high-ceiling event hall of the historic Mayslake Peabody Estate, complete with working fountain, statuary and realistic plants.

So, by the time that thorny opening chase scene was reprised at the end of the first act, I could take it without wincing.

Though more of an overblown rose than a tight bud of comedy, “Jeeves in Bloom” is a fun and enjoyable show.

Rating: ★★★

Note: The performance is 2½ hours, with intermission.

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Chicago theater openings/closings this week

the-bean-chicago

show openings

Bury the Dead

O’Malley Theatre

Boolesque Review Piccolo Theatre 

Dave Rudolf Halloween Spooktacular – Center for Performing Arts – GSU

End Days Next Theatre 

Fulcrum Point Plugged In Evanston SPACE

Hard Headed Heart Victory Gardens Biograph Theater

Little Shop of Horors Beverly Theatre Guild

The Song Show Gorilla Tango Theatre 

The Walworth Face Chicago Shakespeare Theater

skyline-ferris-wheel

show closings

12 Ophelias Trap Door Theatre 

Anna in the Darkness: The Basement Dream Theatre 

Anton in Show Business Theatre Building Chicago 

Black Comedy Piccolo Theatre

Bucket of Blood Annoyance Theatre

The Castle of Otranto First Folio Theatre 

Death Toll Cornservatory

Disturbed Oracle Productions 

The Dreamers Apollo Theatre 

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity Victory Gardens Biograph Theater 

Erendira Aguijon Theater 

Fear – The Neo-Futurists 

The Flaming Dames in Vamp II New Millenium Theatre

Frankenstein The Hypocrites 

Journey to the Center of the Uterus Greenhouse Theater Center 

Lights Out Alma Annoyance Theatre

Macabaret Porchlight Music Theatre 

The Magic Ofrenda Metropolis Performing Arts Centre 

Married Alive! Noble Fool Theatricals 

Mistakes Were Made A Red Orchid Theatre 

Mouse in a Jar Red Tape Theatre 

Nightmares on Lincoln Ave. Cornservatory 

Plans 1 Through 8 from Outer Space New Millenium Theatre 

Salem! The Musical Annoyance Theatre 

Scared Stiff Chemically Imbalanced Theater 

Silk Road Cabaret Silk Road Theatre Project 

Sleepy Hollow Theatre-Hikes 

Splatter Theater Annoyance Theatre 

St. Crispin’s Day Strawdog Theatre 

 

List courtesy of the League of Chicago Theatres 

Chicago theater openings and closings this week

show openings

Bonbs Away! Bailiwick Repertory

Boys Life Gorilla Tango Theatre

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Circle Theatre

Draft Gorilla Tango Theatre

Plaza Suite Eclipse Theatre

The Second City’s Girls Night Out Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Visionfest 2009 LiveWire Chicago Theatre

 

show closings

Bye, Bye Birdie Northwestern University Theater 

El Grito del Bronx Collaboraction 

Honest Steppenwolf Theatre

The Last Barbecue 16th Street Theater

Macbeth First Folio Theatre

The Mistress Cycle Apple Tree Theatre

Sex With Strangers Steppenwolf Theatre

The Siren Song of Stephan Jay Gould Gorilla Tango Theatre

Ski Dubai Steppenwolf Theatre

Spinning Yarns the side project

Trignity Donny’s Skybox

Tupperware: an American Musical Fable The New Colony

Viva Che Latte Donny’s Skybox

What the Weird Sisters Saw the side project

Chicago Theater show openings this week

Chicago Skyline

CARTOON Chemically Imbalanced Theater

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) Gorilla Tango Theatre

DELFOS DANZA CONTEMPORANEADance Center of Columbia College

DIVERSEY HARBOR Theatre Seven of Chicago

DRIVING MISS DAISY Village Players Performing Arts Center

THE GATHERINGImprov Playhouse

JESSICA PRESENTSGorilla Tango Theatre

KATRINA: THE GIRL WHO WANTED HER NAME BACKAdventure Stage Chicago

A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTENFirst Folio Theatre

PARLOUR SONG Steep Theatre

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE Loyola University Theatre

SCAPINOChicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University

SODA Apollo Theatre Studio

TALK RADIOGift Theatre

THE TEMPESTSteppenwolf Theatre

TWELFTH NIGHTChicago Shakespeare Theater

WATERGorilla Tango Theatre

This week’s Chicago theater openings:

BEERThe Neo-Futurists

CARDIFF (BOUND EAST FOR CARDIFF)Goodman Theatre

DESIGN FOR LIVINGFirst Folio Theatre

FIRES IN THE MIRROR16th Street Theater

I GOTCHABlack Ensemble Theatre

LIVING GREEN Victory Gardens Theater

MISAMERICARaven Theatre

THE SINS OF SOR JUANA Northwestern University Theatre

SLAPHAPPY Beat the Jester Productions

XANADUDrury Lane Theatre Watertower Place

2008 After Dark Awards Announced!

Gay Chicago Magazine has just announced this year’s After Dark AwardsBelow is an abbreviated list.  For the complete list, as well as production photos, go to Venus Zarris’s website: Chicago State Review

 

2008 After Dark Awards.  For more information go to ChicagoStageReviews.com

Best Production

Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

The Mark of Zorro (Lifeline Theatre)

Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)

 

Outstanding New Work

Sarah Ruhl – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Anna CariniSweet Confinement (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Tracy LettsSuperior Donuts (Steppenwolf Theatre)

 

Outstanding Adaptation

Shishir KurupMerchant on Venice (Silk Road Project)

Devon de Mayo and Ensemble – As Told By The Vivian Girls (Dog & Pony Theatre)

 

Outstanding Musical

Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)

 

Outstanding Direction

David Cromer – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

John MossmanJuno and the Paycock (Artistic Home)

Anna Bahow – Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Peter Robel – Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)

 

Outstanding Direction of a Musical

Fred Anzevino – “Cabaret” and Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)

 

Outstanding Musical Direction

Joshua Stephen Kartes – Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)

 

Outstanding Performance in a Play

Jennifer Grace – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

Mark Ulrich – Juno and the Paycock  (Artistic Home)

Nicole Wiesner – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Keland Scher – Much Ado About Nothing  (First Folio Theatre)

Madeline Long – Soldiers: The Desert Stand (LiveWire Chicago Theatre)

Sadieh Rafai – Speech and Debate (American Theatre Company)

Jeremy Sher – Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)

Annabel Armour – Fiction  (Remy Bumppo)

Jenn Remke – Resort 76  (Infamous Commonwealth)

Andy Hager – Red Light Winter (Thunder and Lightning Ensemble)

Polly Noonan – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts  (Goodman Theatre)

Nick Vatterott – Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy  (Annoyance Theatre)

Adam Kander – The Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)

 

Outstanding Performance in a Musical or Review

E. Faye Butler – Ain’t Misbehavin’   (Goodman Theatre)

Kat McDonnell – Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)

Summer Smart – Sweet Charity  (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Bethany Thomas – Nine  (Porchlight Music Theatre)

 

Outstanding Ensemble

Emma  (Trapdoor Theatre)

As Told by the Vivian Girls  (Dog & Pony Theatre)

Juno and the Paycock  (The Artistic Home)

Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Superior Donuts  (Steppenwolf Theatre)

 

For the complete listing of all 2008 After Dark Awards, including full descriptions and great pictures, go to my friend Venus Zarris’s theatre blog: www.chicagostagereview.com.   Go Venus!!

Review: "A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Queer Tale"

Shakespeare, Never So Gay and Never So Fun!

By Venus Zarris

This midsummer seems to be chocked full of options for fans of the Bard. There are two productions currently running of Much Ado About Nothing, one under the starlight and trees of the First Folio Shakespeare Festival at the beautiful Mayslake Peabody Estate Forest Preserve in Oak Brook and the other at the Oak Park Festival Theatre. There is also Funk It Up About Nothin’ (weblink here), a world premiere “ad-rap-tation” of Much Ado About Nothing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. (It can’t be Nothing if there are three productions going on at once. I call that Much Ado!)

On July 26th Bohemian Theatre Ensemble opens The Merchant of Venice at BoHo Theatre @ Heartland Studio and on the 27th The Mill Theatre opens Paula Vogel’s Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief, a reimagining of Othello, at Stage Left Theatre.

midsummer nights dream - a queer tale But if you are looking to satisfy your iambic pentameter cravings with a delightfully decadent deviation, MidTangent Productions A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Queer Tale is the show for you! Director/Adaptor Tony Lewis takes Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of young lovers and mischievous fairies and infuses it with a red light cabaret complete with some of the best dance numbers you’ll see in any musical. Filled with writhing bodies engaged in undulating erotic naughtiness, this spin on the Bard’s classic will make you wish that all of the Shakespeare library could be retold with as much homoerotic delight.

In the struggle to gain mainstream acceptance, the gay community has taken to homogenized representations. Many of us are settling down, pairing off in committed relationships, buying homes and/or having or adopting children. On the surface it might even be construed that being straight is so great, we are attempting to imitate or emulate. But Queer Tale stands as not only a wonderful adaptation of Shakespeare, it also stands as an unapologetically sexual solute to the daring divergence and darling debauchery at the roots of gay liberation and expression.

With forbidden lesbian and gay relationships, a Drag Queen Titania lip-syncing to Cher and Madonna and an outrageously erotic dance party fueled by euphoric intoxicants, this show celebrates the ‘old school’ joie de vivre of the community while, at the same time, illustrating the ongoing struggles for acceptance and equality. With a charming cast, fantastic soundtrack and the most playful choreography in town, this will reinvent your notions of Shakespeare in love to include sophisticated and stylized same sex subversion.

“How now faggots?” Asks Puck. “We are but tricks and treats!” Answers the Fairyz of the Hood. From the brilliant dance opening to the bittersweet end, MidTangent’s ‘Queer Tale’ is filled with tricks and treats and then some!

The outstanding direction, conceptual ingenuity and adorably enthusiastic cast shine through to make this a production that transcends sexual orientation or identification. You can’t help but be enchanted by this midsummer dream.

“Some are born gay. Some achieve gayness. And some have gayness thrust upon them.”

Regardless of your sexual proclivity, Queer Tale makes for amazingly entertaining Shakespeare and ambitiously excellent theater!

Rating: «««½

(“A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Queer Tale ” runs through August 3 at National Pastime Theater, 4139 North Broadway (map). 800-595-4849)