Directed by Mark Lonergan
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited
You know you’re in for a treat at the theatre when one of the performers brings down the house by taking a single, stylized breath of air. Yes, the New York Times decreed that the veteran performance group Parallel Exit could get laughs ‘simply by breathing,’ and the capable comedians were quick to prove them right. Their new show Everybody Gets Cake is modern vaudevillian gold. Parallel Exit’s players are masters of all things physical, boisterous, and fun.
The show in question is of a sketch-variety nature, an onslaught of Chaplin-Esque riffing on all things modern classic, theatrical, and cartoon. Centered loosely around a sheet cake in the center of the miniscule stage, the sketches dart in and out of one another like photons in a Hardon Collider. Comically random in their own right, it is the light intermingling of the skits that lead to the uproarious (and unexpectedly heartfelt) conclusion.
The three men of Everybody Gets Cake are showmen in the truest sense of the word; every sound, movement, and facial tic executed with the most razorlike of precision, and for the sole appreciation of the audience. In a parallel universe, Parallel Exit could be among the most expressionistic of performance artists. In this reality however, they use their powers of vocal and physical finesse for good and (mostly) clean fun. Whether it’s a exegetic smartphone symphony, a colorform fight, or an ‘udderly’ whimsical visit from Steve the Theatre Cow, (sorry, I couldn’t resist) the show is the pinnacle of zany, joyous, absurdity.
The sketches as written are highly simplistic (necessary, since most of them are under thirty seconds) and director Mark Lonergan assures nothing goes on longer than it has to. With few exception, the show stays brisk, well-paced, and varied. Darting in and out of the various doors and portholes of 59 E59’s clockwork studio space, the space comes alive during an hour and fifteen minutes where anything is possible.
Although Parallel Exit’s repertoire has a considerable number of showstoppers, one in particular stands out as the most telling of their comedic Je Ne Sais Quoi. The performers hold dark picture frames in front of their heads, framing the goofy expressions on their faces. Music plays. As the song rolls along, the men contort their faces so acutely they create a sort of face symphony. Parallel Exit brings down the house with pure facial contortion.
Not to say every sketch was perfect. Parallel Exit occasionally finds itself at war with modern sensibilities. A prime example is their sketch ‘Awkward Human Contact.’ The contemporary conception of ‘Awkwardness’ is far more subtle and close-to-home than the clownish touching on stage. The skit is disharmonious mostly because the troupe’s other brushes with modernity are so superb (The Smartphone Symphony, for example.)
One the one hand, Parallel Exit could be heirs to the vaudeville throne. On the other hand, perhaps their referential, intuitive storytelling places them in a category more avant-garde. Contextualize as I might, Parallel Exit lives not to be classified, but enjoyed. The show is pure, bombastic, post-modern, pleasure. If you come ready to laugh, everything else is icing on the cake.