He’s charming, he’s debonair, he’s sophisticated, and when you’ve got a problem, you better call Psmith – that’s Ronald Eustace Psmith (“the P is silent, like pterodactyl”). You could feel the fun Goddard’s Music and Drama Club (MAD) Treasurer Randy Barth had in the role as that debonair fixer, created by British author P.G. Wodehouse (15 October 1881 – 14 October 1975). Director Jon Gardner, Costume Designers Millie Tansill and Suzanne Smith and Props Designer Lynne Slater helped make Leave It to Psmith a cozy evening of comedy most British.
The delight of the show was the many witticisms thrown about by Psmith: “I detect a mild annoyance in your reply,” or “[you have] an unfortunate personal appearance” or “[your reply had] a nasty, hollow clang.”
Taking place in the fictional Blandings Castle, the centerpiece of the plot was a coveted, simple MacGuffin: a necklace that belonged to ditzy and shady Freddie Bosham’s stepmother, Lady Middlewick. From there, as he worked on Freddie’s behalf, Psmith hatched a Tom Sawyer-worthy scheme – something to do with a £5,000 British pound check and Freddie becoming a partner in a company so he can marry the girl he adored, Phyllis Jackson. To help pull this off, Psmith impersonated a Canadian poet, Ralston McTodd. With two low-level crooks throw in, it was hard to tell who was an accomplice to whom.
The show sported a sizeable number of props, from umbrellas to potted plants to guns; Slater did an amazing job with said props. Along with Eliot Malumuth, Slater provided impressive set decoration. Malumuth’s set design included a cleverly made subway platform. The always spot-on Steve Beitzell provided sound effects such as rain.
Top hats and tails for men and lavish dresses for women – 1920s style – added a touch of elegance to the show; costume Designers Tansill and Smith earned their proverbial paychecks. I loved the moonlight provided by Lighting Designer Jodi Vezzetti (recently involved in Perfect Arrangement). The choreography of Katrina Jackson had several on-stage couples putting on the ritz in a dancing/party scene at the top of Act 2.
Jeff Pattison was British-as-hell as Lord Middlewick, a goofy character good for mostly losing his glasses. Pattison affected an on-the-nose accent throughout his performance. I liked how John McCloskey, seen last spring in MAD’s Weird Romance, created a strong impression from his role of a butler named Bellows.
James Olsen made Freddie Bosham fast-talking and a bit of a con man. I liked Laura Hope Shapiro’s interplay with Olsen, as Freddie Bosham’s fiancée Phyllis Jackson.
Sarah Nechamen and David Buckingham played the sketchy Aileen Peavey and Eddie Cootes, in a comically seedy manner.
Courtney Ritz excelled as Lady Middlewick and MAD’s Beauty and the Beast veterans Eve and Nathan Sanders played Agatha Crofton/Gladys Rumbelow and Christopher Walderick respectively. George Tansill hilariously played the “real” poet Ralston McTodd.
There was a pre-show cabaret that featured the vocals of Kathy Nieman, Shawn Perry, Richard Richardson, and Angie Russo. Breon played piano and Tony Miller, guitar. Some of the songs featured were “Look for the Silver Lining,” sung by Nieman; “April Showers,” sung by bass-baritone Perry; and “Someone to Watch Over Me” by Russo.
Director Gardner wrote of his show: “…our play is a labor of love as a group of people work together to create living art.” The show had a playful spirit and was great fun, but there were a few problems. The acoustics were uneven in places, and some actors needed to project more. I would have preferred to see doors in lieu of curtains, stage right and left. Some of the British accents came and went – some weren’t there at all.
Perhaps the recent Federal Government shutdown affected the production. As producers Alethia Young, Eliot Malumuth and Susan Breon wrote: “This year we added one more challenge: a 35-day government furlough…we were locked out of Goddard, with no place to meet and, what was worse, no place to hold auditions…we weren’t even sure we would have a place to rehearse or put on the show.”
MAD has produced a witty and enjoyable show. This play piqued my interest in the world of P.G. Wodehouse. It’s certain to pick up increasing audience members via word of mouth throughout its run.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with two intermissions.
Leave It to Psmith plays through April 6, 2019, at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Music and Drama Club at the Barney & Bea Recreation Center – 9998 Good Luck Road, Glenn Dale, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 301-966-2MAD or go online.
Note: The entrance is an unmarked gate into Goddard Space Flight Center. You will see a guard in a car with its lights flashing.