“Perfect Nonsense,” the enjoyable, if slight, play is currently being presented at Hartford Stage. Based on the works of P. G. Wodehouse and written by the Goodale Brothers (Robert and David), “Perfect Nonsense” uses the famous characters of Jeeves and Wooster to fashion a kind of screwball farce. More so than the content of the play, which seems to run out of story before the end, “Perfect Nonsense” is recommended to see the stellar performances of Chandler Williams, Arnie Burton and Eddie Korbich. It is really the combined efforts of this trio that sustains the amusement of the evening, with Burton and Korbich delightfully taking on multiple roles.
“Perfect Nonsense” is certainly an attractive production (with terrific scenic and costume design by Alice Power), but it loses some momentum in the second half. This show brings to mind the stage production of “The 39 Steps,” which also employed two actors playing many characters and making rapid costume changes. But, whereas “The 39 Steps” has a totally compelling and complex tale to tell, “Perfect Nonsense” has a plot that wears a bit thin. Still, you will want to see “Perfect Nonsense” at Hartford Stage, just to bask in the supreme talent of these three masterful performers.
The story of “Perfect Nonsense” does delve in the areas of blackmail and other complicated situations, as well as providing many witty jokes. The playwrights certainly know their characters of Jeeves and Wooster and are extremely proficient in emulating the spirit of the works of P. G. Wodehouse. And, as directed by the fine Sean Foley, there is always a great deal of activity onstage, which elicits a lot of laughter and enjoyment. The main problem of “Perfect Nonsense” is that it feels overextended—perhaps if the creators had limited the evening to just one act, the whole show would play better. In its present state, the over two hour running time, with an intermission, gets a bit wearying.
Still, the three actors chosen for this production are all fantastic. In the lead role of Bertie Wooster (and the only actor who plays just one part), Chandler Williams is extremely deft and stalwart and frequently funny. Williams certainly carries his part of the show excellently, with a proper British accent and gentleman-like manner, even in a brief scene where he is seen taking a bubble bath. That said, his costars are even zanier and, since they both change roles in a moment’s notice, they often steal focus.
Arnie Burton is ideal as the butler, Jeeves, but he also gets to cut loose as a number of different characters, some of them female, and he has a truly show stopping bit in the second half where he plays two parts at the same time, which has to be seen to be believed. As Seppings, also a butler, the wonderful Eddie Korbich has great fun and he is seen, as well, as Wooster’s dotty aunt, and his playing of an extremely tall policeman (who seems to grow in height as the show progresses) is downright hysterical. I have seen Korbich several times in New York, in such musicals as “Carousel” and “Seussical,” and, in “Perfect Nonsense,” he displays his expertise as a farceur of the highest order.
The lighting design by Philip Rosenberg is spectacular and the sound design and original music by John Gromada are equally good. Director Sean Foley also has the able assistance of his choreographer Adam Cates, who certainly helps to keep the action sprightly. However, as noted, “Perfect Nonsense” displays a great deal of theatrical expertise, but without the content underneath to really back it up right to the very end. However, as an exercise in jolly farce and providing a merry playground for the actors to have a field day in, “Perfect Nonsense” does deliver the goods, and, ultimately, the acting alone is just too good to miss.
“Perfect Nonsense” continues performances at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through April 20, 2019. For tickets, please visit www.hartfordstage.org or call the box office at 860-527-5151.
Photo: (L-R): Eddie Korbich, Chandler Williams, and Arnie Burton
Photo by T. Charles Erickson