MENASHA, Wis. (WFRV) – Ahhh… comic relief. Just what the doctor ordered.
On the its first play back from the COVID-19 pandemic and other headaches, venerable Attic Chamber Theatre has a tight comedy going.
“Jeeves at Sea” is about an amiable, pampered British oaf, his precise and encyclopedic valet, a spot or two of romance and a heap of comic mayhem over a muddling friend’s attempts to pull off an inheritance scheme with the help of his “twin.”
Amid the delightful complications are doses of teasing of the British upper crust in the Art Deco era around 1929 and chances to hear special language. Bertie Wooster, the oaf, is described by the one he is sweet on as a “woolly headed ducky.” In a moment of crisis, Bertie notes, “This just about takes the giddy biscuit.”
Playwright Margaret Raether (not mentioned in the printed program – oops) stuffs a stack of giddy biscuits from the writings of P.G. Wodehouse into the tongue-in-cheek action.
Director Tom Stadler has his experienced cast primed to pull off all kinds of exacting bits of comedy.
Prime is a kind of tennis match between Bertie and Jeeves. Bertie has a gift for air-headed predicaments, and Jeeves has a greater gift for finding the best way out. Tom Stadler has Casey Nash being precisely frenetic as Bertie and Scott Crane precisely precise as Jeeves. This is performed in the three-quarters round of an intimate theater, so up close, the acting is a marvel.
Along comes Daniel Draves as Crumpet, Bertie’s ne’er-do-nuthin’ buddy. It seems a German count (Paul Vanden Boogard) is after his hide for a late-night drunken misadventure from which he has a black eye. The plot around Crumpet is so thick it involves him making up a macho twin from Africa, Bertie’s sweetheart Stella (Rachel Sandlin), Jeeves’ sweetheart Minerva (Debra Barkholtz) and all kinds of tightwire comedic situations. Daniel Draves gets to unleash over-the-top acting with bolts of energy.
Each of the players grabs onto his/her role and charms. Everybody is woven into the fabric of the dizzying Bertie/Jeeves/Crumpet plot. Rachel Sandlin’s Stella herself is playing both ends against middle in sweet ways. Debra Barkholtz’s demure Minerva speaks up to rail against class inequities in the midst of a scene in which Bertie is supposedly wooing her. Paul Vanden Boogard’s ramrod Germanic military officer goes from mighty to meowing.
The production has the look of era in set décor and costuming (see the photo gallery). Action takes place aboard a yacht, the deck of which is theatrically re-created with an impressive faux wood floor.
Very much went into pulling off “Jeeves at Sea” on stage. And then there are other parts of the Attic Chamber Theatre story:
Like so many theater groups, Attic has dealt with schedule destructions and disruptions in the pandemic. Plan A became Plan B became Plan C. Attic seems to be somewhere in the middle of the alphabet now because of extra headaches. Its original plan was to present this season in James W. Perry Hall, the larger of two theaters in University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Valley Campus Communication Arts Center. The idea was to socially distance the audience. Then came a storm and damage to the theater just before the set for “Jeeves at Sea” was to be moved in. Among other things, Attic had to re-seat ticketholders in the adjacent Lucia Baehman theater; seating is shoulder to shoulder now, though COVID-19 restrictions are eased. On opening night Friday, troupe president Berray Billington told the audience, “We got ’er done, and we’re ready to go.” The illusion now is “Jeeves at Sea” is going on like nothing happened. The show transports the audience to a worry-free experience. Such is live, in-person theater.
Added note: In a surprise Friday night, Bob and Nancy Ernst, stalwarts of Attic Chamber Theatre, were honored for their decades of service to the theater on and off the stage. Presenting flowers and a plaque named for the Cloak family in whose attic the troupe was started were the Ernsts’ two sons.
Creative: Playwright – Margaret Raether, adapting stories of P.G. Wodehouse; director – Tom Stadler; production coordinators – Kyle Conn, Robert Ernst; scenic designer – John Dalziel; light hang assistant – Zanna King; costumer – Emily Mae Westerfield; costume assistance – Nancy Ernst, John Roberts; props – Kyle Conn, Stacy Hoffman; sound board operator – Carlton Johnson
Cast (in order of appearance):
Bertie Wooster – Casey Nash
Jeeves – Scott Crane
Crumpet – Daniel Draves
Stella – Rachel Sandlin
Miss Pilbeam – Debra Barkholtz
Otto – Paul Vanden Boogard
Running time: Two hours
Remaining performances: 7 p.m. July 10; 2 p.m. July 11; 7 p.m. July 15-17
NEXT: “The Lifespan of a Fact” by Jim Fingal and John D’Agata, Aug. 12-21.
THE VENUE: Lucia Baehman Theatre is a 125-seat, rectangular space in the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus (name change as of July 12, 2019) Communication Arts Center. Lined by black stage curtains on each wall, the space serves as a black-box theater. There are no adornments, and the stage and space are adaptable to whatever a production needs. The adjacent lobby is spacious and includes a ticket office, snack service area, restrooms and spaces for art and photo displays. The center opened in 2009.
THE PEOPLE: Lucia Baehman and her husband, Stan, are longtime supporters of theater in the Fox River Valley.