Cut to the Chase
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 12, 2007
Cut to the Chase, Parallel Exit's newest silent physical theatre entertainment, is blissful and funny—pure delight, perfect for the entire family. (In fact, having some very small children in your party will likely increase the giggle quotient significantly.) It leaves us wanting more, which is a rare and beautiful thing for this kind of show. It deserves to become a perennial holiday fixture at 59E59, or—with a bit of expansion—on Broadway.
It begins even as the audience is entering the theatre, with Laura Dillman (as "Dilly"), dressed in a bright blue usherette uniform, helping the theatre staff get patrons into their seats; her sunny sense of thrilled expectation is downright infectious as she points out chairs with her oversized flashlight (unnecessarily, for the house lights are still on), salutes the house staff, and tries to restrain herself from getting carried away tapping along with the peppy ambient music being piped in on the speakers.
And then the house lights do finally go down and Cut to the Chase gets to its sprightly business. The idea is that we're going to see a vaudeville show, hosted and overseen by The Great Jeske. But, as in every Keystone Kops short and every Warner Brothers cartoon (the chief referents here), things continually and improbably and hilariously keep going wrong. The Great Jeske himself is hit in the face with a swinging door within moments of his entrance; he will be besieged, as the evening goes on, by a piano bench that falls apart when he sits on it, a flying piano key, a pair of complicated love triangles among his cast, a thoroughly uncooperative percussion player, and—inevitably—a pack of tied-together dynamite sticks of the kind that you heretofore have only seen in the hands of Elmer Fudd or Wile E. Coyote.
And yet, the show goes on: the percussion guy, Dobson, performs on a brand new musical instrument of his own invention; the company prima donna, Julietta Massina, sings several songs, including the upbeat title tune and a close harmony version of "Shine On, Harvest Moon" that constantly threatens to spin out of control; Roland Derek performs some magic tricks; Little Angela, an oversized Shirley Temple-ish figure, tap dances; Jeske's assistant, Kasper, pursues usherette Dilly while simultaneously resisting the amorous advances of Julietta, pausing for a few breathtaking tap solos along the way; and The Great Jeske himself amuses us non-stop, whether juggling hats (before donning his utterly ridiculous wavy blond hairpiece) or tickling the ivories with a brio and good humor unseen since the heyday of Victor Borge.
All of this happens, mind you, in just a shade over an hour; Cut to the Chase delivers its goods in quick and delicious succession, and not one of the many sketches comes close to wearing out its welcome. Director Mark Lonergan and writer/conceiver Joel Jeske have fashioned a high-energy, high-quality vaudeville that showcases the ample talents of their tiny company; there's enough slapstick and silliness to please the small fry and enough sophistication and acumen to ensure that grown-ups are constantly diverted as well, making this a well-nigh perfect family entertainment.
And—paean that this is to silent clowns, classic Looney Tunes, and contemporary New Vaudeville—not a single word is spoken. (There is, as I've said, music aplenty, performed on all kinds of percussion instruments, ukulele, piano, and even for a few moments a tuba; plus singing.)
The cast is extraordinary. Joel Jeske, master of ceremonies and chief clown here, proves that he can do just about everything: I loved watching his piano-playing antics especially, and also hearing him harmonize with his real-life wife Juliet in "Harvest Moon." She plays the diva Julietta with enough attitude for a stageful of leading ladies, singing beautifully if humorously huffily throughout. Ryan Kasprzak, as Kasper, is all goofy boyish charm, and blithely graceful when he dances. Derek Roland (who plays Roland Derek) works in the grand matinee idol tradition, and then surprises us with his homey magician act. Andrea Kehler is a little whirlwind as Little Angela; while Laura Dillman's Dilly is the awestruck, starstuck, stagestruck naif in all of us—she's our guide into the world of this show and she's a constant delight. Finally, musician Mike Dobson is terrific on the drums, etc., but it's his unflagging Keaton-esque deadpan stare that wins him the most applause.
All in all, a grand company to spend an hour with. If you've got some family members visiting you over the next few weeks, whatever their size, age, or proclivity it's likely that they'll be delighted by Cut to the Chase (but feel free to go on your own as well!). Lighter-than-air cartoon comedy is the great equalizer, right: who doesn't laugh when a pompous clown like The Great Jeske falls flat on his face?