Drawing once again from the wellspring supplied by British humorist P.G Wodehouse, First Folio Theatre premieres another effervescent Margaret Raether adaptation of a Wodehouse tale.
Artistic director Alison C. Vesely and the impeccable trio of Jim McCance, Christian Gray and Kevin McKillip reunite for "Jeeves Takes a Bow," an enjoyable midwinter romp that is every bit as entertaining as their previous two collaborations: 2008's "Jeeves Intervenes" and 2010's "Jeeves in Bloom."
"Jeeves Takes a Bow"★ ★ ★ ½
Location: Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, (630) 986-8067, firstfolio.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday through March 3
Running time: About two hours, with intermission
Parking: Free lot adjacent to the estate
Rating: For most audiences
Droll quips (expertly timed) and a dollop of slapstick animate the comedy underscored by mistaken identities and lovesick suitors. There's also a giddily staged madcap chase and a full-blown musical production number -- a new and welcome addition to First Folio's Jeeves series -- which Vesely and company pull off with great humor.
The farce unfolds in the posh Manhattan apartment (sumptuously designed by Angela Miller) of Bertie Wooster (a slightly daffy, always endearing Gray). He's an agreeably inept British aristocrat who, as one character observes, "suffers from the twin handicaps of a large fortune and an atrophied brain." On holiday in New York City, Bertie has discovered a fierce independent streak, which manifests itself in an injudicious choice of socks (which are a punch line worth waiting for), much to the chagrin of Jeeves, played to deadpan perfection by McCance, who makes it difficult to imagine anyone better suited to the role.
A gentleman's gentleman, Jeeves' primary duties -- besides mixing cocktails and announcing visitors -- consist of extricating the bumbling Bertie from various peccadillos, often involving disgruntled women and instigated (at least in part) by old school chums.
One such chum is Nigel Bingham Binkersteth (another fine comic turn by McKillip, a terrific physical actor), also known as Binky. Binky informs Bertie that he has given up his position with the British embassy to become an actor. Additionally, he has been pursuing (under Bertie's name) an aspiring actress named Ruby LeRoy -- think Miss Adelaide from "Guys and Dolls" -- played by First Folio newcomer Jennifer Shine, a charmer with a baby-doll voice and bow lips. Ruby is the star of "Naughty Natalie," a musical set in the Old West. The show is financed by well-groomed gangster Knuckles McCann (a spot-on David Rice), a "miniature gorilla masquerading as a man," who's protective of his investment and his star.
With Binky masquerading as Bertie, Bertie is forced to take on the identity of Binky, a ruse that is almost uncovered with the arrival of Wooster family friend Vivienne Duckworth (a deliciously tweedy Lydia Berger Gray, whose character is described as someone "Ibsen dreamed up in one of his less frivolous moments"). Vivenne is in town researching a book on America's seedy underbelly which requires her to investigate New York's dens of iniquity. Knuckles offers to serve as her guide.
Of course things go awry, forcing the ever-capable Jeeves to intervene.
All in all, First Folio's production runs like a well-oiled machine, powered by pros who have made Wodehouse's characters their own.