Guest review by Dave Rabjohn
Improvisational theatre, by its nature, is organic. A seed is planted during an improv night and then it grows, makes twists and turns, gets polished and recreated as a sketch. This process is called “process.” Sorry, the jokes are best left to the troupe. The outcome is another riotously funny program, Take Me Out to the Improv, from Second City in Toronto. The production runs through to October and there is a rumour about a travelling show.
Second City Toronto is almost 50 years in the making, from its roots in The Royal Alex, to the Firehall and on to the brightly designed Mercer Street location. Part of the fun is the hallway experience with every square inch of wall covered with iconic black and white photos depicting stars past and present. Even on a washroom or barroom run, one can’t help pause and reminisce about the vaulted talent frozen on a wall – numerous stars that are household names – they need not be listed here. Waiting for the curtain, video images take us through a sometimes irreverent trivia game again giving us that sense of wonder and even pride over the vast Canadian talent. Enough sentiment! This present cast sparkles and they will have to widen the hallways.
Clare McConnell, Andy Assaf, Matt Folliott, Nicole Passmore, Christian Smith and Jillian Welsh have diverse backgrounds that range from comedy acting, writing, film making, television work and even teaching. This array of experience propels the show – energy, wit, timing and creativity (all staples of improv work) was in abundance. Improv requires a delicate balance of both giving and taking – not just making a strong contribution, but also patiently reacting to the contributions of others. This balance was demonstrated with a tight, crisp and hilarious program.
Spoiler alert is perhaps not the right term since improv usually means each show is a snowflake, but we will consider some highlights. A speed dating sketch with brainiacs Clare McConnell and Andy Assaf went full tilt crazy. As they out-dueled each other with their intelligence, it instilled physical arousal at the same time. The physical humour became riotous as bells went off each time an Einstein salvo hit their genitals. The sports motif was introduced with a father and daughter trying to enjoy a Blue Jays game beside a crusty, long beleaguered fan. Jillian Welsh was brilliant as the nine year old. With a range of convincing voices, she played the nine year old, a Guys and Dolls Miss Adelaide and a feisty street tough. A mustachioed Matt Folliott (November was the only month he took it off) was brilliant as the old codger who turns out a hero.
Nicole Passmore is a standout throughout. Her marquee character was Pamela Ballin, the PC candidate from Whitby. Her nuances as a shifty politician were brilliant as she leaps from hypocrisy to hypocrisy without embarrassment. Ms. Passmore was often the lead hand in many of the sketches. One of the final highlights was with Christian Smith and Jillian Welsh playing a sombre couple just trying to get through the U.S. border. Andy Assaf sits on a high stool and looks down upon them as the unwelcoming border guard. The hilarity comes from the intimidation in the form of no dialogue. The stagecraft of Mr. Smith’s physical prowess elevated the scene – with darting eyes and quiet head bobs he was a picture of nerves. Ms. Welsh’s cheerleader demeanour was a brilliant contrast. The audience roars as he slowly crawls out of the tightly parked car and comes nose to chest with the cop. The scene ends with side splitting marital discord.
Mark Bond, a Second City veteran, is the musical director for this production. He has a wealth of background in composing, improvising, and teaching. His role is to be as dexterous and creative as his acting partners. This he did brilliantly as he also doubled as the sound effects designer. The haunting sounds of the aforementioned border scene were effective in replacing the dialogue. First-time director Nigel Downer must have felt blessed with the fantastic cast. His job of tethering the circus must have been fun!
Don’t miss the after show where more pure improvisation takes place and the audience becomes even more involved. You may just become a part of the next seed that will develop into future fun. Tickets at the website. The show runs through to October 2019.
(Edited to change art July 26 2019)