Hartford Stage: With 'Jeeves' (And Wooster, Too) , The Butler Did It Again

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Sean Foley hopes American audiences will delight in the wit and silliness of P.G. Wodehouse’s characters in Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense,the play-within-a-play comedy he is directing that is receiving its North American premiere at Hartford Stage, running through April 20. It’s an import from London where it was a hit several seasons back, receiving the Olivier award for best new comedy. The new production, written by David and Robert Goodale and based on the 1938 novel The Code of the Woostersby Wodehouse, has a new three-actor American cast.

Sean Foley

“It has in it all sorts of things that I think Americans respond to,” Foley says. “It has wit, warmth and lots of physical and visual gags.” It’s the same kind of humor, he says, that American audiences embraced in the past with comedies like The Play That Goes WrongNoises Off and One Man, Two Guvnors.

It’s a classy show, too — in a way. “It’s about an extremely rich, extremely stupid young man, Bertie Wooster, and Jeeves, his suave butler who is a gentleman’s gentleman. Think of it as posh farce: people being very serious about something utterly trivial. The whole plot is about hunting down this silver cream jug and the lengths they have to go. That’s the whole fun of the show.

“Bertie is an amazing comic creation. He never uses his class in a negative way. He’s a benign presence and a klutz and just so lovable.”

A musical version of the same Wodehouse characters was a big hit when By Jeeves had a developmental production at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre in Chester in 1996. The show, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and scripted by Alan Ayckbourn, moved on to Broadway where it opened shortly after 9/11 and closed a few months later. Hopefully this version will have a better fate.