Joel Jeske and Danny Gardner in Room 17B
(© Jim Moore)
Joel Jeske and Danny Gardner in Room 17B
(© Jim Moore)
The art of physical comedy, which was a mainstay of vaudeville and silent film comedy, has become so rarely seen in modern entertainment that to witness it, live, in a theater today is as sweetly nostalgic as it is wonderfully refreshing. Which brings us to the happy shenanigans that take place in the Parallel Exit Company's production of Room 17B, at 59E59 Theaters. A highly accomplished cast of four actors, all of whom have had a hand in one aspect or another of the show's creation, put on a delightful series of skits, blackouts, gags, and pranks in a charming 65 minutes of pure fun.

Everything in the show ostensibly takes place within the confines of a high-rise business building, specifically in what appears to be a rather magical filing office marked "17B." It's here that our four employees -- a demanding boss (Joel Jeske), two junior, competitive executives (Danny Gardner and Brent McBeth), and the ever present musician (Mike Dobson) -- congregate.

The show begins with a brilliant establishment of tone; the players engage the audience from the outset by designating several seats in the theater as "partially obstructed views" and giving the people who sit in those seats signs that they have to hold up in front of their faces to actually obstruct their views. But then they top that bit of silly business with what may be the greatest innovation (and money maker) in interactive theater we've ever seen: they offer the play's patrons the chance to opt out of any and all audience participation by paying an extra five dollars. (We paid!)

Among the show's bits, there is a contest to see who can become free of all constraints first: a member of the audience with a large paper bag placed over his head or one of the actors tied up with rope. The show careens from a knock-knock joke told in Japanese to the dark humor of the boss breaking the neck of one his employees and stuffing him into a filing cabinet. There is a game of musical chairs with members of the audience, and inbetween all of the bits there are lots of eccentric dancing and little throwaway gags. The pace is smartly enhanced by the presence of Dobson on stage at all times, perched behind his xylophone, and providing the musical cues that keep everything in motion.

Dobson is more than a musician, however; he composed the show's original music, he's one of the writers, plus he's an active participant in a number of the skits. He also has a great deadpan comic face. Jeske is the show's other writer, and he's a ferocious comedian with a commanding quality. McBeth has a playful Pee-wee Herman aspect to his performance (he's also the show's co-choreographer), while Gardner (the other co-choreographer) represents the young everyman and does so with charm, humor, and style.

It's the nature of this show to be more visual than verbal, which might lead you to think this is something dismissively simple, but Room 17B is, in fact, remarkably sophisticated in its execution. They just make it look simple: and that's the art.

For tickets and information, click here.