Saturday, January 24, 2015


“Caution: Not for Those with Low Shtick Tolerance!”

EVERYBODY GETS CAKE! is one of those oddball shows that you’re going to love or hate, laugh your ass off at or view with one eye on your watch. The night I saw it, a small number of people crammed into the tiny Theater C at 59E59, including my guest, laughed almost continuously, sometimes raucously; and then there were us churlish cretins, counting the minutes until the piece was over. Blessedly, for those like me, this took not much more than an hour, although, given my low tolerance for witless non sequiturs, it seemed more like two.
From left: Brent McBeth, Danny Gardner, Joel Jeske. Photo: Jim R Moore/Vaudevisuals.
Don’t let me give the wrong impression, though. EVERYBODY GETS CAKE!, a production of a troupe called Parallel Exit, is produced with considerable skill and polish by a three-man cast (Joel Jeske, Danny Gardner, and Brent McBeth; Ryan Kasprzak takes over for Mr. Gardner on January 24) under the razor-sharp direction of Mark Lonergan. Mr. Lonergan’s achievement, assisted by the choreography of Mr. Gardner and Mr. McBeth, is a nonstop barrage of mostly fast-paced farcical sketches with a surrealistic edge, with each actor-clown making multiple quick costume changes (great costumes by Oana Botez) to play an army of broadly cartoonish characters. Certain images reoccur, including a serial killer, a lonely old man in a nursing home, and torch-bearing villagers (like those in the Boris Karloff FRANKENSTEIN movie), but making sense of this potpourri of nonsense is beside the point. Either the pat of comic butter sticks to the ceiling or it doesn’t.  I suggest distributing seeded rolls to handle all the butter that ends up falling. 
Joel Jeske. Photo: Jim M Moore/Vaudevisuals.
My problem isn’t with the idea of a crazy-quilt, hellzapoppin’ assemblage of comical bits and pieces, whose chief goal seems simply to tickle funny bones, like a theatrical version of a Spike Jones musical routine or those old TV shows, "Laugh-In" and "Monty Python's Flying Circus." It’s simply that, however hard these clowns work (they work very hard, perhaps too hard), using an impressive arsenal of physical, facial, and verbal mugging techniques, their material is too often juvenile and heavy-handed. It’s shtick you want to beat with a stick.   

The performance space—cleverly lit and designed by Maruti Evans—is a white box whose walls and floor are painted with broad arrows pointing up and down, left and right, and in circular directions; there are doors at left and right, a wide door upstage that revolves quickly on a pivot for rapid entrances and exits, and a pair of upper window spaces through which one or the other performers occasionally stick their faces. A talented musician, Ben Model, who occasionally joins the action, sits in a nook where he accompanies the show with bouncy music, both classical, modern, and original (his own). Much of it provides the Mack Sennett-like slapstick shenanigans with a silent-movie feeling. (There are also numerous distinctive sound effects provided by Mike Dobson.)
From left: Danny Gardner, Joel Jeske, Brent McBeth. Photo: Jim M Moore/Vaudevisuals.
As examples of their material, I could cite Mr. Jeske’s frightened Dog Owner, who, as the sound of an offstage dog’s growling is heard, drags himself on as if the dog has one of his legs in its jaws. After pulling himself free, he stands up and says: “So much for ‘Bring Your Dog to Work Day.'” Blackout.There’s a routine that struggles to milk laughs from Mr. Gardner in a pink cow suit, and one that shows Albert Einstein (Mr. Jeske) demonstrating his inability to use a microphone. Even less amusing are the gags based on “Awkward Human Contact,” which are almost as awkward as the one that thinks Mr. Gardner’s slurring his words after a Novocaine injection is side-splitting. Or how about the one that finds hilarity in Mr. Jeske stuffing his jacket with balloons until there’s no more room, followed by a squeaking fart sound and the line, “I think that was me.” Ba-da-boom. Some potentially clever bits go on too long; one allows Mr. Gardner and Mr. McBeth to play a symphony of cell phone sounds, while another, called "Facial Choreography," has all three men show how rubbery their faces are while inserting them in oval picture frames. The gag that made me gag for more reasons than one has Mr. Jeske taking a coffee and donut break while munching enthusiastically on an inflatable hemorrhoid donut. Oh, wit, where hath thou flown?
From left: Danny Gardner, Brent McBeth. Photo: Jim M Moore/Vaudevisuals.
Whether you like the show or not, unless you’re a diabetic or have other diet issues, you’re sure to enjoy the little gift distributed at the end of the show. As the title says, everybody gets cake! 

59E59 Theaters
59 E. 59 St., NYC
Through February 8