Dear old Jeeves, the loyal and resourceful valet in the ong-running series of stories by P.G. Wodehouse, is back on duty at Asheville’s N.C. Stage Company with much of the familiar cast that helped make his visit last season an unprecedented success.
Jeeves in Bloom runs through Sunday, Feb. 19. The comic tale has the valet and his wealthy employer Bertie heading to the English countryside to visit the lovesick Gussie, who is desperately trying to win over the lovely Madeline Basset. Of course, the visit goes wildly off the tracks, and it’s up to Jeeves to save the day, as he always does.
Though the tale is set more than 90 years ago, there’s something about Jeeves that seems timeless. Asheville loves the characters, as does director and N.C. Stage co-founder Angie Flynn-McIver, who started reading Wodehouse as a teen. (Both last year’s and this year’s shows were written and adapted by Margaret Raether, based on Wodehouse’s fiction.) “You can see a lot of Monty Python and other great English comedians [in the Jeeves tales],” Flynn-McIver says. “That was a huge draw for me.”
Jeeves and Bertie were envisioned in 1915 and written about until 1974. “The Wodehouse stories live outside of time,” Flynn-McIver says. “They are almost fairy tales, light confections. They are escapism. There is an attraction to looking back at that period.
“These are people falling in love and getting in trouble, and that is something that we can all relate to.”
“There just seems to be a resurgence of interest in that period with [the TV show] ‘Downton Abbey,’” says N.C. Stage co-founder Charlie Flynn-McIver, who plays Gussie.
“Downton” was “more serious in how it examined the differences in social classes,” he says. “There is something familiar about the story and how Jeeves takes cares of Bertie. The servant knows more than those around him. It unfolds in a smart and intelligent and funny way. The humor ranges from the sublime to the flat-out silly. There is fanciful and witty wordplay and moments of slapstick.”
Revisiting the Jeeves oeuvre presented an opportunity for Charlie to partner with his old friend Scott Treadway (who reprises the role of Bertie). The two have teamed in many shows through the years. “It’s great to find another vehicle where we can work together,” he says.
The cast also includes Michael MacCauley, back as Jeeves and, returning in new roles, Callan White and John Hall, joined by company veterans Trinity Smith and Strother Stingley.
When N.C. Stage produced Jeeves Intervenes last year, it became the biggest blockbuster in the company’s 15-year history. Before that, N.C. Stage’s major hit had been the quirky rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a million light-years away from Jeeves and company. But Angie never doubted that the savvy valet would connect with Asheville theater fans.
“These characters are an endless amount of fun. It’s always hard to keep from laughing in rehearsal,” she says. Plus, strong word-of-mouth buzz also helped build turnout, and “It’s hard to go wrong with Charlie and Scott and Michael in a comedy.”
Treadway, who is one of Western North Carolina’s top professional actors with many credits at Flat Rock Playhouse and N.C. Stage, was eager to slip back into the character of Bertie. “He is such a free spirit,” Treadway says. “He does whatever he wants to do, and if he oversteps a bound, Jeeves will help him out.”
Having played the part last year was a big advantage in taking the role on again, he says. “The way that words come out of your mouth is so joyful. The language is delicious.”
Beyond the performance, Treadway is glad to be working again with N.C. Stage. With his schedule, “I only get to do one show a year in Asheville,” he says. “It’s almost like sneaking away to be with my friends. I walk into the rehearsal space, and we barely even nod or say hello, and it’s like we just finished the last [show]. The eight months between shows just flies by.”
It’s possible that even after Jeeves in Bloom, local theatergoers won’t have seen the last of the Wodehouse set. “There is at least one more script from the same playwright,” Angie says. “We have hit on something that is very popular.”
WHAT: Jeeves in Bloom
WHERE: N.C. Stage Company, 15 Stage Lane, ncstage.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, Feb. 19. $16-$40