By Elizabeth Maupin
Elizabeth Maupin on Theater
You can take the title of PB&J Theatre Factory’s new comedy, Shhhh!, as a warning.
It’s not just Mark Koenig and Todd Zimmerman, who play burglars in this murder-mystery-satire, who have to be very, very quiet. It’s also the Garden Theatre audience, who must put their ears into concentration mode to pick up all the silliness this show entails.
You see, all silent comedy isn’t created equal. And while Shhhh! has no actual dialogue, it’s laden with sounds – most laughably, the sounds of words themselves turned into sound effects.
So when a mystery writer (Melissa Mason) is trying out a series of murder weapons for the book she’s working on, she makes shrieking, Psycho-like noises: “Wrench! Wrench! Wrench!” or “Rope! Rope! Rope!”
And when a cop (Michele Feren) bursts in on an inn-ful of potential criminals, her rapid-fire guttural command sounds very much like “Nobody move! Nobody move!”
PB&J has been perfecting its sound effects since its first semi-silent comedy, Sport, turned up at the Orlando Fringe back in 2006. A series of other monosyllabic S-word shows have followed (Snack, Sleigh, Splash and the school-show Shade), all written and directed by the company and all depending not only on PB&J’s inspired physical comedy but on the effects of sound designer Michael Gill and on the cast’s own vocal derring-do.
With Shhhh!, the company falters a bit in its storytelling: The characters take way too long to introduce themselves, and only after the intermission does the comedy come out swinging. But the sounds those characters make are priceless from beginning to end.
Gill is not on hand for this go-round, and neither are two other PB&J stalwarts, Brandon Roberts and Jason Horne, whose way with comedy is just about always assured. All three actors are missed in Shhhh!, which relies on a mixture of regulars and newcomers and could use a few more performers as physically expressive as they.
The story, such as it is, unwinds on a stormy night in an apparently deserted hostelry called the Mist Ache Inn, where the two burglars break in after making off with an eye-poppingly bejeweled necklace. Guests start arriving in record time, and Koenig and Zimmerman have to pretend to run the inn while trying to keep hold of the necklace, which has a way of floating mysteriously from room to room.
The guests’ back-stories, unfortunately, aren’t especially hilarious, and the show relies on those sound effects and on physical comedy to keep you engaged. Lucky for the audience that Koenig, one of PB&J’s mainstays, is on the money: His face shows every bit of fear and exasperation you need, and the sound he makes when his cohort makes it silently up the creaky stairs is, well, a scream.
And lucky that one of the newcomers is tall and skinny Josh Siniscalco, who is limber enough to bring comedy to the stereotypical horny old codger and whose embodiment of a fortune teller’s parrot is more birdlike than birds can be.
Most of the actors (who also include Patrick Braillard, Melissa Mason and Meggin Stailey) have their moments, although their styles don’t always mesh and some of them are considerably broader than others. It takes the introduction of an unsuspecting audience member to up the hilarity level – that, and a New Orleans-style funeral for a victim that doesn’t fit an undertaker’s normal guidelines. Happily, normal is not what PB&J is all about.
- What: PB&J Theatre Factory production of company-developed physical comedy.
- Where: Garden Theatre, 160 W. Plant St., Winter Garden.
- When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 27 (also, 8 p.m. Feb. 14).
- Running time: Two hours, including one intermission.
- Cost: $18 general, $15 seniors and students.
- Call: 407-877-4736.
Photos courtesy of PB&J Theatre Factory.
Copyright 2011 by Elizabeth Maupin.