Theater Review: Artists’ Ensemble stages work of English humorist

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Artists’ Ensemble’s latest production showcases Margaret Raether’s Jeeves & the Greensleeves Disaster. Based on the work of P.G. Wodehouse, the English humorist whose long career gave us some of the best comedy of the 20th century, Raether’s play beautifully brings to the stage two of Wodehouse’s funniest characters.

Set in a London flat in the 1920s, we find Bertie Wooster in a typically frustrating situation. David Gingerich is Bertie. His lifestyle is one of cocktails, wild parties and the evasion of permanent relationships. His man-of-all work—butler, valet and arranger of dinner parties—is Jeeves. An actor we have long appreciated, Gary Wingert, gives his role the dignity required in an English butler. Never flustered, he is able to solve the dilemmas of his flighty employer. The stage bits in which he effortlessly retrieves articles of clothing and tea cups displays his impeccable timing.

If Bertie is a bit dim-witted, his friend Eustace Bassington-Bassington (Derik Marcussen) is the epitome of denseness. Both are absolutely charming, but their ability to cope is missing. Jeeves fills the vacuum. Plans for a Christmas holiday in Cannes are thwarted when Bertie’s Aunt Agatha demands their attendance in the country. Pat Staaf’s portrayal of Agatha is enhanced by Jeff Hendry’s spectacular costumes. Glitter, chiffon, pheasant feathers and furs are the perfect accoutrements for a grand lady, although she is more of a dragon, absolutely terrifying Bertie.

Determined to arrange a suitable marriage, Aunt Agatha brings the lovely Gertrude Winklesworth-Bode to tea. Bertie is terrified, and Eustace is smitten. To add to the confusion, Sir Rupert Watlington-Pipps arrives. Barry Nyquist plays the blustering uncle of Eustace. With the uncle’s demand for accountability, his nephew is forced to hide his frugal accommodations. Nyquist’s scene as the retired officer off to a reunion in a kilt of immense proportions is a highlight.

Richard Raether obviously has had great fun directing the show. Margaret’s witty dialogue, the fine cast, perfect set, and Jeff Hendry’s authentic costumes combine for an excellent production. Artists’ Ensemble showcases local talent, and like NAT, continues to provide opportunities for the best actors in the area.

Jeeves & the Greensleeves Disaster runs through Dec. 17. The company’s residence at Rockford College has been most beneficial. The box office number is 226-4100. The annual fund-raiser will be Feb. 10 in Maddox Theatre. Arty-Joke is a one-performance show of song, dance and comedy. Featuring Artists’ Ensemble & Friends: Timm Adams, Patte Armato-Lund, Doug and Jill Beardsley, Todd Bonzi, Betsy Kaske, Riley O’Neil, Dorothy Paige-Turner, and the Rockford College Vocal Collective, it promises to be an evening of great entertainment.

Returning from California in the blizzard, I’m more than ready for my theater experiences—Frank’s Home at the Goodman, Oliver! at NAT, and J. R. Sullivan’s Hometown Holiday, it is good to be home.

From the Dec. 6 – Dec. 12, 2006, issue

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