by Margret Echeverria
PERFECT NONSENSE now playing at Hartford Stage Company is written by brothers David and Robert Goodale and is based on P. G. Wodehouse‘s 1938 novel The Code of the Woosters. This is information to which I was not privy for two reasons before I saw the show: (1) When I review a show, I like to go in as blind as a mouse guarding his tail from the carving knife and (2) it did not occur to me that I might need to be a full-on fan of Wodehouse to have any appreciation at all for this story.
The story is a typical British mash-up of mis-understood love between high society socialites and the hijinx of one terminal bachelor, Bertie Wooster (Chandler Williams), his valet, Jeeves (Arnie Burton) and his Auntie Dahlia’s butler, Seppings (Eddie Korbich). Seppings coughs for ages when he is first introduced and then never coughs again. Jeeves is very clever with a hammer and saw spontaneously building set pieces which are really the delightful creations of Alice Power. And I am pretty sure that Bertie is trying to convince us that he is the most interesting person we have ever met. These three chaps endeavor to make friends with the audience, breaking the fourth wall in hands-on engagement with the front row, and tell us of a particularly riotous weekend in their recent memory playing all the characters in the narrative themselves. This could be fun . . . but there is entirely too much narrative and not enough action. The characters are, each of them, so wrapped up in the hilarity of themselves playing others that we feel as though there is an inside joke between them to which we will never really be let in. Or is it that I’ve never read any P.G. Wodehouse? Or is it that — gasp! — I see your gloves approaching my cheek! — none of these actors are British.
There is a desire to put an unlikely couple back together despite the disapproval of uncles and aunts, a trip to the country from the city complete with simulated crank engine cars, cows passing in the road and a pretty darn funny train crossing. There is a diversion from the singular course of meddling with
lovers that involves something about sending Bertie to drive down the price of a valuable creamer fashioned out of silver for sale at an antiques shop. Bertie goes to the shop to talk smack out loud about the creamer calling the cow-shaped antique Dutch. (I really don’t know either. My brilliant mother is Dutch.) However, there is a marvelous re-enactment of the cow creamer being fumbled and flying through the air, bouncing from one to the other over hazardous obstacles while the clumsy humans attempt to avert total disaster. This was a wonderful, playful choreography by Adam Cates that was rather thrilling.
A good third of the audience left during the intermission. Several of them were grousing about not being able to hear what was going on during the show. I was grateful to them because I thought perhaps my hearing was going. I explained to my date that it is a long-standing tradition in London to not mic their actors, so perhaps this was the problem. I was not aware in that moment that these actors were not — ow, that hurts; put the gloves down! Upon reflection, I think there were just too many words being thrown out at us. Perhaps the Goodale brothers were too precious about the novel to really adapt it for the stage. Show me, please; don’t narrate at me. That really only works best in a one-person show and even then it is really easy to over do it. This show is two hours and fifteen minutes long, People. I laughed most when no one was speaking.
PERFECT NONSENSE A New Play from the works of P.G. Wodehouse by the Goodale Brothers, Directed by Sean Foley
With Chandler Williams (Bertie Wooster), Arnie Burton (Jeeves) and Eddie Korbich (Seppings).
Artistic Director, Darko Tresnjak; Scenic Design, Alice Power; Costume Design, Alice Power; Light Design, Philip Rosenberg; Sound Design and Original Music, John Gromada; Choreography, Adam Cates; Production Stage Manager, Lori Lundquist.
Through April 20 at the Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church Street, Hartford CT 06103. Phone: 860-527-5151. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org