The mystery: How can seven actors barely uttering a word, miming absolute nonsense, keep an audience of adults — and children — chortling for two hours?
The clues: A bit of slapstick, a bit of improv, a bit of the Charleston for good measure and — what's that you say? The PB&J Theatre Factory?
Ah, mystery solved.
PB&J Theatre Factory has been providing dialogue-free
for a few years now, including food-themed "Snack" and Christmas-themed "Sleigh."
Its latest, "Shhhh!" serves up the troupe's signature mix of clowning, pratfalls, sound effects and general tomfoolery wrapped around the story of two crooks pretending to be innkeepers.
It's a lighthearted affair, and if the show lands only a few gigantic guffaws, there's a steady stream of gentle laughter throughout the caper.
Two thieves have absconded with the famed Clown's Tear diamond and gone into hiding at the abandoned Mist Ache Inn. (You get it, right?) But then one thief accidentally turns the inn's lighted sign on, and suddenly guests start arriving. Thus begins a lively evening of "Who's got the diamond?" and "Which guests aren't what they seem to be?"
The show is full of PB&J's quirky touches: One crook reads a magazine called "Hide-outs Quarterly." The other, pretending to be a waiter, brings freshly ground pepper to serve over the diners' bananas.
Some of the best jokes take the familiar and run with it: Why do single socks disappear in the dryer? Why can't anyone open a bag of chips without raising a racket?
But, as usual, much of humor is derived simply from the charm of the performers.
Mark Koenig and Todd Zimmerman share an Abbott and Costello rapport as the feckless thieves-turned-hoteliers, with Koenig's face especially rubbery as he experiences glee, shock, horror, despair.
Michele Feren, in tight red dress and heels, is a scream every time she thinks she has killed her elderly husband and gives a screech of delight before her glee turns to disgust when she realizes her plan has failed.
Melissa Mason is a woman possessed as an author in search of a good way to commit murder. Anything she sees is an option: from the weapons from the board game Clue (nothing like a good lead pipe) to a cheese grater.
In one of the show's niftier conceits, as she types her murderous plot, the murderer appears to her to enact what she's writing. Patrick Braillard makes an appealingly sad-sack fictional murderer, as well as a goofily cheerful man obsessed with finding his missing sock.
Meggin Stailey plays a mysterious Gypsy but she is upstaged by her pet bird, in a bit of inspired nonsense embodied by Josh Siniscalco (who also plays the elderly husband). As something akin to a parrot, Siniscalco's head darts from side to side, looking for a cracker, and he claws his way up a banister. Don't tell
but when he flies into a window, it's pure comedy.
The ending takes too long to get to its final twists. And some jokes — a step that creaks only when the crooks need it to be quiet — wear out their welcome.
But the thought of Siniscalco's bird peeling his face off that windowpane is still bringing a smile to my face.
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See for yourself
A PB&J Theatre Factory production of the comedy 'Shhhh!'
Garden Theatre, 160 W. Plant St.,
8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 27
$18; $15 for students and seniors