Pull out the Pimms! Pop the Champagne!
The idle rich are in full throttle at New York’s Arclight Theatre on West 71st Street.
It is 1919 and that ultimate gentlemen’s gentleman, alongside his dense albeit well intentioned employer- respectively known as Jeeves and Wooster- are in residence by way of a delicious presentation by the imaginative folks of Gotham Radio Theatre. A jovial welcome to “Jeeves and Wooster in America,” stay as long as you like. It doesn’t get any juicier for the many practicing Anglophiles living in New York City. You know who you are!
P.G. Wodehouse was a prolific, intensely sharp English writer with humour dryer then the perfect martini. His iconic British drawing room characters – Bertram “Bertie” Wooster and his personal valet i.e. his “man” Jeeves, and other diverse and sundry Brits – Cyril Bassington Bassington, Aunt Agatha, Tuppy Glossop, Bingo Little, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Aunt Dahlia – (these clever nomenclatures rival the names of Charles Dickens) are the subjects of a delightfully amusing series of short stories written over a 60 year time span. They are the upper crust, “to the manor born” moneyed members of elegant English men’s clubs, the fastidiously fussy players on Scotland’s legendary golf courses, the tastefully dressed walkers, in their tweeds and wellies, of the English Lake District. The invitation only attendees at Ascot’s elegant opening day. This is an era when peace reigned in England, class distinctions were distinctly apparent, employment “in service” was an honor, and manners mattered at the manor.
The premise of these stories usually involves the inane activities of the charmingly dim Bertie Wooster. He’s expert at arriving at the wrong solution via extraordinary efforts, while Jeeves dryly, capably and inevitably comes to the right conclusion with relatively little work whatsoever. In this particular radio presentation of “Jeeves and Wooster in America” the problem is of course created by Bertie’s amusing ineptitude. In this instance Bertie was to keep his friend, Cryil Bassington-Bassington, from appearing on the theatrical stage (how déclassé!). Rather he ends up getting him a speaking part in a Broadway show. My dear, what would Bertie’s Aunt Agatha say? Well, keep calm and carry on, nothing must interrupt tea! And so the fun begins, the devil is naturally in the ditsy details and no item is too minutia for the plot line…even Bertie’s purple socks have a life of their own. You’ll never be able to stifle your chuckles; don’t even try to keep a stiff upper lip.
I have maintained for years that in this media soaked savvy world, you have to find a new way to tell a story … another manner of presentation. Simply said: “you gotta get a gimmick.”
In the words of that ultimate Anglo, Winston Churchill, “the further backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” The mature minds at Gotham Radio Theater have brought the past clear thru to the present. Recall the phrase, “I’ll see you on the radio?” This really happens at the tiny Arclight Theater as a live radio drama where vocals, sound effects and commercial sponsors (in this case “Rinso”) create the story for their phantom radio audience. This is no small feat; you could close your eyes and actually HEAR the story as you would in the early days of radio. But to complete this concept, the talented performers of “Gotham Radio Theater” have to perform in period costume, manage the actual sound effects on stage and ultimately act out the story for their seated audience. They have indeed out- clevered clever!
These radio stories work especially well with the works of English writers. A classy British accent, complete with crusty clipped consonants and a natural nasal pretentiousness are ideal for stories where the verbal manner of presentation and spoken plot take precedence over the visual. Everything old is new again.
I especially look forward to their “Sherlock Homes and the Speckled Band” arriving spring of 2013. Last June, I was introduced to their productions via a dazzling radio version of Noel Coward’s supremely sophisticated “Blithe Sprit.” Brillant. I could visualize Big Ben’s sly wink from across the pond…oh those cute, crazy colonials.
As befitting this happy time of year, Gotham Radio Theater’s affordable celebration of the Holiday Season will be this Sunday, December 9th, at 2 PM and 5 PM and again on Monday, December 10th at 7 PM. They are getting even sharper this season, and will be presenting “Rudolph’s Tale: A 1964 Christmas!” as per usual at the Arclight Theatre … but naturally there’s a twist … it will be performed as the initial TELEVISION special, complete with 1960′s commercials. This is one talented troupe of wit and creativity. Should be great fun discovering how they present this present in the present to those present!
So come join in the reindeer games!
Contributed by Joanne Theodorou