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A CurtainUp Review
The show, written by Mike Dobson and Joel Jeske and directed by Mark Lonergan, is a fascinating amalgamation of vaudevillian routines and the kind of skits once found in Mack Sennett and Charlie Chaplin films, with a little audience participation thrown into the mix.
The acting troupe is made up of Dobson (who also wrote the original music and is the percussionist), Jeske, Danny Gardner (co-choreographer) and Brent McBeth (co-choreographer). Their exquisite timing and priceless expressions serve as wonderful replacements to unnecessary words.
The four men interact in a claustrophobia-inducing set defined by floor-to-ceiling file cabinets. Many of the props the actors use are found inside these drawers. Actors often have recourse to them when they want to dominate one another or gain control of a situation.
The vignettes in Room 17B are designed as an absurdist parody of how businessmen behave in the corporate world. There are magic tricks (more or less successful) that fool the eye, file draws that open and close with no reason, a battle of wits (and jingles) between ice cream vendors and a game of musical chairs (played with members of the audience).
All of these antics are ridiculous; all of them involve power struggles that have a winner-take-all mentality. The audience recognizes the bully, the conniver, the innocent bystander, the abused. Comedy makes it all benign.
From the beginning the audience is invited to step into this world. Mike makes sure those who have a label on their program reading "Partially Obscured View" hold up a cardboard panel that obscures their view. He informs those in the audience who have a program with the label "Random Seat" that they may be the recipient of a random experience. He assures those with "Safe Seats" that they will not be bothered during the entire show.
Oh yes, there's a bit of the circus in this show too. One ring. No danger. Four clowns. And lots of fun.