Brent McBeth, Joel Jeske and Danny Gardner in Room 17B. Photo by Jim Moore.
BOTTOM LINE: Old-school comedy and clowning -- in suits and with a modern twist.
Last night I visited room 17B. It’s an interior office that is filled from floor to ceiling with gray filing cabinets and three doors. Oh, and there is also a xylophone...and a gong...and a few other small percussion instruments, as well. What appears to be a very drab office environment is about to become an extremely lively and explosive stage that four actors will soon fill.
Mike Dobson, Brent McBeth, Danny Gardner and Joel Jeske make up this four-man team. Their colorful, posed, high energy entrance is one of the best comedy intros I've ever seen. They do a great job of pulling the audience in and setting up their show. And then the bits begin. Mike reads from note cards and goes over a few show notes. There are some very funny jokes in this piece that get the audience primed for participation and anticipation of where the show is going to go.
Each character has his own personality and office role. Joel is the intimidating boss. Mike is the innocent one. Brent has a very stylish way of moving and dressing (notice his bow tie). Danny has a big personality and strong facial expressions. They combine with a nice chemistry and as performers they all know what their strengths are. In fact, most of the show is a display of each performer's individual strengths. There isn’t much of a story. It’s actually a collection of short sketches with old fashioned comedy. Very old fashioned. Charlie Chaplin-style. Classic comedy.
For the most part the performers rely on non-verbal communication using their bodies and facial expressions to communicate with the audience and each other. Their clowning abilities come to the forefront. Joel is a highly trained clown who has previously performed with the Big Apple Circus and Cirque de Soleil. His two solo pieces display his talents both in telling a story and getting laughs. His first piece is simply about a man going to the park to feed the pigeons; what fills the story is his clown-like discovery and innocence. He moves about the stage from beat to beat discovering each element and interacting with it. It’s pretty simple and ends with a funny punch-line.
There are bits that feature audience interaction; one escape bit was the highlight of the show for me. I can't explain much or I'll give away the joke, but I honestly had a belly laugh during this scene. It was brilliantly set up and the commitment by the actors really sold it.
The show's use of music is another highlight. Mike is the composer and primary musician; his skills on the xylophone create a nice score.
There were sketches and bits that didn’t hit as well. These tended to appear at the end of the show. Perhaps their style of comedy wasn’t as fresh as it was at the top of the show, but the bits did seem to lose steam or at least my interest. What did liven things up was when they interacted with the audience, unfortunately there isn’t as much of this as the show seemed to promise at the beginning. I would have like to see at least one more audience interaction bit. The closing audience interaction bit was fun to watch and the whole team clowns around with a few members, but that was it. I wanted a little more that’s all.
Overall, this is an entertaining hour of comedy that gives you an appreciation for clowning and old-school comedy. It’s nothing ground-breaking, but the performers' skills are a pleasure to watch and the tiny theater space gets you nice and close to the action. Comedy aficionados should check it out for its approach. It is a lesson in how comedy it used to be done and how you can do it today -- for only 25 bucks.
(Room 17B plays at 59E59, 59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison Avenues, through February 6, 2011. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30PM, Thursdays and Fridays at 8:30PM, Saturdays at 2:30PM and 8:30PM, and Sundays at 3:30PM at 7:30PM. Tickets are $25 or $17.50 for 59E59 members and are available at 59e59.org or by calling Ticket Central at 212.279.4200.)