TIRED OF WAITING for acting parts to appear, young British actor Edward Duke tailored the hilarious tales of P.G. Wodehouse to himself, and came up with "Jeeves Takes Charge," the hard-to-believe-it's-just-one-man show that returns to Ford's Theater for three weeks.
Because of a "customs snafu of staggering dimensions," most of the set's furniture was still sitting on a dock in New Jersey on preview night, so Duke had to fill up the stage all by himself. And so he did, antically impersonating Wodehouse's unstable stable of upper-class '20s twits, including bachelor boulevardier Bertram Wooster, who is forever being saved from a scrape by his omniscient valet Jeeves, and a host of other oddly named eccentrics, including Gussie Fink- Nottle, Aunt Dahlia, Pongo Twistleton-Twistleton, Madeline Bassett, and a gaggle of dotty dowager aunts.
Duke has condensed and stitched together three dry-as-gin comic episodes: "Jeeves Takes Charge," told by Bertie; "Bertie Changes His Mind," in which Jeeves recounts how he tricked Bertie out of his desire to become a family man; and the third, "Wooster in Wonderland," in which Bertie's Aunt Dahlia bullies him into telling a few jokes, singing "Sonny Boy" and tapdancing to entertain the Market Snodsbury village fair.
With an outrageous laugh that combines giggle, snort and a Model T's aaa-OOOO- gah!, Duke's Bertie is an instantly likable chump, and a bit of a fop, given to dressing in loud stripes and polka dots. Duke becomes the starchy, stentorian Jeeves with a trick of the light and a flip of the monocle, and dissolves as easily into other characters as the audience does into laughter.
The evening was directed by "Cats" choreographer Gillian Lynne, who has Duke capering and leaping ausingly about the stage as he spins his stories. And the clever art deco set by Carl Toms has the look of period illustrations. Very good, "Jeeves."
JEEVES TAKES CHARGE -- At Ford's Theater through February 23.