The Butler Did It

Reviewing Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s “Jeeves Takes a Bow.”

P.G. Wodehouse, 20th-century England’s great comic storyteller, was as familiar with rush and tumble of New York City as he was with the sylvan leisure of manor-house England. He made a home in Manhattan for several years, and was a creature of Broadway, penning books and lyrics for dozens of light-hearted musicals that fit his comic personality.

So it’s no surprise that Margaret Raether would include a New York story in her trilogy of Wodehouse adaptations, ensconcing the posh British dunderhead Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves in an Art-Deco, prohibition-era Manhattan hotel.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Jeeves Takes a Bow, its final episode of the trilogy, opened this weekend, showing–in appropriate Wodehouse fashion–that it’s quite dodgy to fussy up a good thing.

Matt Daniels and Chris Klopatek. Photo by Paul Ruffalo
Matt Daniels and Chris Klopatek. Photo by Paul Ruffalo.

Once again, MCT taps Matt Daniels and Chris Klopatek to play Jeeves and Wooster, and for good reason. Daniels uses his smooth physical talents to make its seem that Jeeves is everywhere, even though he never seems to move. And his deadpan intonations land with perfect reserve and crack timing. Klopatek’s Wooster, by contrast, is wide-eyed and sunny, and seems whisked around the stage by the slightest whim. Director Tami Workentin orchestrates some fine physical comedy, with Jeeves popping up in exactly the right place to grab a discarded coffee cup or help Bertie to slip on a crisply pressed blazer.

The other two plays of Raether’s trilogy are amalgams of a few original Wodehouse stories, but this one seems to be an original invention. With Jeeves and Bertie peeling around the Big Apple, she adds some characters who are more Damon Runyon than classic Wodehouse.Chase Stoeger plays Wooster’s old school chum, Binky, who dreams of leaving his typically English diplomatic career to become a Broadway hoofer, primarily because he has fallen for Ruby LeRoy (Anna Cline), a chorus girl fond of eye-popping clothes, whether onstage or off (courtesy of costume designer Kim Instenes). Watching over her is the loud and brawny “beverage” entrepreneur Knuckles McCann (Steven M. Koehler). Kay Allmand is Vivienne Duckworth, a tightly wound gal who has crossed the pond in pursuit of her own nuptial promise.

Koehler, Klopatek, Cline and Allmand.  Photo by Paul Ruffalo
Koehler, Klopatek, Cline and Allmand. Photo by Paul Ruffalo.

Wodehouse’s stories sparkle with witty dialogue, and Raether gives us a taste of that badinage here and there, but lest the proceedings become a bit too twee, she animates the dialogue with a helping of farce and slapstick. In the first fifteen minutes alone, there’s an extended Whoopee Cushion gag, and a slap-happy spat that’s right out of the Three Stooges. But fortunately, Workentin’s actors can do it all. So whether you like your comedy whimsical or Whack-a-mole, Jeeves Takes a Bow is at your service.



Paul Kosidowski is a freelance writer and critic who contributes regularly to Milwaukee Magazine, WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio and national arts magazines. He writes weekly reviews and previews for the Culture Club column. He was literary director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from 1999-2006. In 2007, he was a fellow with the NEA Theater and Musical Theater Criticism Institute at the University of Southern California. His writing has also appeared in American Theatre magazine, Backstage, The Boston Globe, Theatre Topics, and Isthmus (Madison, Wis.). He has taught theater history, arts criticism and magazine writing at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.