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THEATER REVIEW Jeeves in Bloom
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times

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Playwright: Margaret Raether ( from P. G. Wodehouse )

At: ShawChicago ( sic ), Ruth Page Theater, 1016 N. Dearborn St. Tickets: 312-587-7390;; $35. Runs through: Feb. 26

It's difficult to express in words the profound understanding of existential angst apparent in Jeeves in Bloom ... which is a very fortunate thing because there isn't any.

Indeed, I can't imagine a philosophical interpretation of the brilliantly inane and vastly amusing stories of unflappable British manservant Reginald Jeeves and his upper-class twit of an employer, Bertie Wooster. These justly famous and enduring literary creations of P.G. Wodehouse now are over 100 years old and have lost none of their appeal or luster. There have been countless stage adaptations of the Jeeves short stories and novels, and Jeeves in Bloom is as good as any of them, created by Margaret Raether from several of the originals rather than adapted from a single source.

The plot particulars aren't important. All the stories find Bertie in a mess, usually of his own creation, and Jeeves coolly extricating him with Bertie's dignity ( such as it is ) and bachelorhood intact. In Jeeves in Bloom, Bertie ( Christian Gray ) spends a country weekend with his favorite aunt, Dahlia Travers ( standby Barbara Zahora ), her husband Tom ( Jack Hickey ) and Tom's niece Madeline ( Allison Selby Cook ). Bertie suspects Dahlia and Tom want to match him up with Madeline so he brings along his newt-loving, nerdy friend and foil Gussie Fink-Nottle ( Gary Alexander ) for cover ... and Jeeves, of course. Aunt Dahlia's brilliant French chef, Anatole ( Matt Penn ), also adds to the plot, as does a suspected jewelry heist.

Typical of ShawChicago, this is a semi-staged concert reading of the play rather than a fully-designed production. Don't let the physical simplicity deter you; you're in for a very good time in the sure hands of veteran director Robert Scoggins and his seasoned comedy players. Most of them have done Bertie and Jeeves at ShawChicago before, so they know how to handle material such as this. It can be ruined by overplaying on one side and a lack of commitment to the characters on the other side, joined in the middle by actors who telegraph that they are being funny. Absolutely no such problems here.

You do need to know that Jeeves in Bloom requires active listening. It's told mostly through words alone, with a good deal of humor and wit, requiring an engaged audience. Of course, it's also situation comedy ( which is why the stories have been successful on stage and in a BBC television series in the 1990s ). This concert staging suggests the physical action just enough to follow the story, but you still need to pay attention ... and use your imagination!

Note: ShawChicago has an atypical off-Loop performance schedule: noon Saturdays, 1 p.m. Sundays and 7 p.m. Mondays.

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