Combining storytelling, improv and performance art, McGee gets us from the get go. Dressed in a bright orange vintage dress and wearing a bleach blonde wig, she’s a woman on a mission. She’s invited us to the theatre to celebrate her man’s birthday—and be his first major standup audience. Checking in with stage manager Robin (Munro), and making the rounds to ensure that everyone’s had their shot of vodka, she’s a flurry of super planning activity. And as we sit waiting in the dark for his arrival, she explains what will happen and we get ourselves ready to welcome him.
He’s running late, so the lights come up and we get some history. Her ever alert ear on the door, pricked by any possible sound of entry, she tells us how this engineer/amateur comic caught her attention. He made her laugh. And she really needed that. She finds it difficult to commit and—navigating emotional highs and lows on medication—we hear about how she made herself fit into the relationship so she could keep it.
Of course, things went astray. When he finally does arrive (the ex-boyfriend is played by a different actor each night), things don’t go exactly as planned—and even fantasy can betray. But there’s mini-cupcakes.
McGee is a powerhouse of storytelling and entertainment, connecting with us in this immersive space. Conveying focus that shifts from razor sharp to scattered, a fragile psyche, and an endless capacity to feel hope and despair, she gives a quirky, genuine performance that is both entertaining and poignant. Touching on issues of relationships, mental health and obsession, I’m Doing This For You highlights the difference between needing and wanting a romantic partnership, and how we can be really attracted to something about someone even when we’re not that into them. And the crazy things we all do to maintain or avoid intimacy, and the regrets and after thoughts that go through our minds when it’s over. This woman is a super kooky, fun gal who’s seriously derailed herself—and we really come to care about her during this 65-minute journey.
With shouts to lighting/set/props designer Shannon Lea Doyle for the trippy performance art set, full of white and transparent balloons. Combined with McGee’s retro costume, the design is a flashback to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (for those of us old enough to remember that sketch comedy show).
Big surprise romantic gestures, coming together and falling apart in the endearing, fragile, funny I’m Doing This For You.
I’m Doing This For You continues in the Michael Young Theatre in the Young Centre till this Saturday (May 6); this show is for adults aged 19+ (proof of age required) and booking in advance is strongly recommended. Get your advance tix online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666.
Set up in a variety show format, the evening’s festivities were hosted by stand-up comic Hisham Kelati, and featured guests Northwest Passage and Leslie Hudson. The Dandies are: Chris Casselman, Danielle Cole, Alan Leightizer, Zach Mealia, Jamillah Ross, Dale and Andie Wells, and Jason Zinger (musical director).
Host Hisham Kelati (aka Black Riker) kicked off the night with a set, interspersing bits throughout the evening. A Star Trek fanboy himself, bits included a hilarious encounter in a bathroom during a fan convention and anecdotes about his Eritrean mother, illustrating how she’s a Klingon mom at heart.
Sketch comedy duo Northwest Passage (Kat Letwin and Simon McCamus) served up some darkly funny—and socially apt—storytelling with a series of sketches about a Grade 1 overachiever (Letwin) and how an art class critique from her teacher (McCamus) changes her life. The far-reaching and lasting consequences of that fateful day come on funny and poignant at the same time.
Singer/songwriter Leslie Hudson is also a serious Star Trek fangirl—and she proves it with a set of soulful, blues-infused original songs inspired by the various series (included on a CD). With driving beats and heartfelt ballads, she sings of doctors, captains and strong Klingon women.
For the main event, The Dandies—who set up their characters at the top of the evening—returned to the stage for some Star Trek-themed improv. Company member Alan Leightizer schooled us on audience participation for sound effects: entrances/exits through ship doors, transporter beams and warp speed engagement.
Set on the USS Hummingbird, the crew is getting used to some new arrivals: a disgraced, demoted former Captain of the USS Albatross and his Borg colleague Nine of Ten; and an ambitious young first officer. The Hummingbird’s Captain is a fierce and unforgiving Klingon woman with a love of vintage Earth clothing and reputation for ritually killing those who displease her. And the new Commander’s attempt at ingratiating himself gets super awkward when she expects his shipment of bell bottom pants to ring.
The newly, and dubiously, promoted Doctor has no patients to practice on, so the Captain assembles an away team. Beamed down to the surface, the gang finds themselves on a planet inhabited by talking monkeys. The Captain decides to fight their leader to the death for possession of the monkey inhabitants; binge-watching the Rocky movies in preparation of the battle.
It’s silly, it’s crazy—and it’s 90 minutes of good fun Star Trek parody.
Wacky, trippy good times with stand-up, sketch, music and improv in The Dandies’ Holodeck Follies.
Holodeck Follies was a one night only show, but look out for a return of The Dandies in February and keep an eye out for them at Toronto Comicon (March 17-19).
Songbuster Inc. brings the funny with a musical twist in with Songbuster – An Improvised Musical; a new show created every performance by the ensemble with musical director Tom King. Currently running during the Toronto Fringe Next Stage Festival (NSTF) in the Factory Theatre Studio, the ensemble features Tricia Black, Kristian Bruun, Ashley Comeau, Alexandra Hurley, Stephanie Malek, Josh Murray, Nug Nahrgang, Nicky Nasrallah and Connor Thompson.
It all starts off with an ask. In this case, the ensemble asking an audience member for a setting to work with; something in the nostalgic gathering department. The woman in the front row suggested a family reunion. And off they went.
From there, a series of musical scenes unfolded, incorporating various music styles from classic musical, to country western, to blues, to ballads. A cantankerous, forgetful grandfather has a heart-to-heart with his hair-eating, taxidermy practicing teenage granddaughter Claire, who was named after her grandmother (one of the only things he can remember), who was known to walk the tightrope on occasion. The strained relationship between Aunt Eleanor and her husband Philip, who both really like to drink beer (like, a lot), unfolds as we learn that Eleanor is secretly in love (mutually so) with their next door neighbour Martha. An unexpected guest arrives, a previously unknown cousin from Norway, who cross country skied the whole way there—and who has secrets of his own.
And then there’s Claire’s mother Donna, trying to keep things together at home since her husband John left for another woman. And her kid brother Robert, who misses his dad’s scary bedtime story character voices and takes out his confused frustration by punching trees. Unbeknownst to this family, John is making his way home to the family ranch, hoping for reunion and redemption.
Meanwhile, Grandpa unearths the strange cousin’s secret and rallies the family to protect a hidden cache of WWII treasure (and weapons, apparently) buried on the property—forcing everyone to put their differences aside for the good of the family.
Amazing work from the ensemble in this hilarious trip through family relationships and crises—and all with music and improvised lyrics, folks. And these guys can sing. This performance of Songbuster included some surprisingly poignant moments, especially during John’s entrance. Sorry for his trespasses and realizing the huge mistake he made in leaving, he’s been longing to return home to be reunited with Donna and the kids. Here, solo turns into quartet as Donna and the kids join him in the background.
Hidden WWII treasure, a closeted aunt, a shifty foreign cousin and other family secrets in the funny, surprisingly poignant, Songbuster – An Improvised Musical.
Ever wonder where the misfit toys went after Santa took them off the island? How about that original ending to A Charlie Brown Christmas that the network execs didn’t want you to see? And how Oliver Twist became an activist?
Wonder no more, my friends. For this holiday season, Second City presents Twist Your Dickens. Written by former TheColbert Report writers Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, and directed by Chris Earle, with music direction by Ayaka Kinugawa, it’s running right now at the Greenwin Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.
If you’re looking for a straightforward comedic retelling of A Christmas Carol, you ain’t getting it here. Starring Seán Cullen and Patrick McKenna, and featuring award-winning Second City alumni Jason DeRosse, Nigel Downer, Sarah Hillier, Karen Parker and Allison Price, Twist Your Dickens plays with sketch comedy and improv as it weaves other classic holiday favourites with Dickens’ famous Christmas tale, twisting and turning the storytelling—and the fun—in wacky, unexpected ways. Think secret Santa at the Fezziwigs’ office Christmas party; Tiny Tim’s sleepover; Oliver Twist’s orphan protest.
Leading this wacky band of performers, Cullen gives us a deliciously nasty and darkly funny Scrooge; callous and money grubbing, with hints of the Grinch, he has a game, child-like quality—which comes in handy on his journey with the ghosts. McKenna does a fabulous job, juggling several supporting characters, including the woebegone Jacob Marley; the chains he forged in a miserable life linked with confessions shared by audience members, inspiring a round of hilariously bizarre improv. McKenna also does a hysterically hyper-cheerful (or is he?) Fred, Scrooge’s nephew; he does a mean Jimmy Stewart George Bailey too.
Rounding out the ensemble is a fine group of sketch comedy/improv performers. DeRosse is Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s put-upon but faithful clerk (or is he?); he gives a stand-out performance as Linus in the alternate ending for A Charlie Brown Christmas, as the gang reacts to his speech at the school Christmas pageant. Karen Parker plays Mrs. Cratchit, Bob’s supportive wife who can barely stand to tolerate Scrooge—and has some interesting suggestions on that score. And she shines with the song stylings of Ruby Santini, delivering her own personal, hilariously inappropriate take on classic Christmas songs during a recording session (featuring McKenna as her baffled, stressed out producer). Hillier plays Tiny Tim, with a decided twist; this kid may be schlepping along with an ill-fitting crutch, but he’s no wilting wallflower.
Downer calls out the show’s obvious and not so obvious anachronisms as the Heckler; and does an awesome job as the rad, energetic Ghost of Christmas Past. And Price is hilarious as the drunken party girl Ghost of Christmas Present and the prankster Ghost of Christmas Future.
With shouts to the design team Jackie Chau (set), Melanie McNeill (costume) and Christina Cicko (lighting), and stage manager Andrew Dollar.
Second City serves up the fun with a trippy mashup of holiday classics in Twist Your Dickens.
Twist Your Dickens continues in the Greenwin Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until December 30. Get your advance tix online; for group discounts (8 plus), call THE Group Tix Company 647-438-5559, outside GTA 1-866-447-7849 or visit the group box office online.
Theatre Lab opened its production of Jonny Sun’s Dead End, directed by Michael Orlando, on Thursday night in the Factory Theatre Studio, where I caught it last night, along with a post-show talkback with Sun and Orlando.
Set in an isolated and claustrophobic fourth floor corridor of an abandoned high school during the zombie apocalypse, we’re introduced to the world of Dead End via voice-over (by Ceridwen Kingstone) – and in darkness. A wry, matter-of-fact, school announcement vibe, we’re told we’re lucky to be in the high school, which aside from being run-down and neglected, has largely escaped the ravages of the apocalypse. Unlike the neighbouring middle school, which was not so lucky. But even so, this hallway was once the sad and sorry student path to the math classrooms – and for some of us, that is pretty scary in itself.
Stumbling into this space, two young men (Christian Smith and Chris Wilson) fumble about with flashlights, searching the darkness for possible danger. For a while, they are contented that they are safe and zombie-free. But not for long. They are joined by a lone zombie (Kingstone), which is now blocking their way out. One man (Wilson) has a gun. But it only has one bullet left. Dark hilarity ensues as the two men try to come up with a plan to evade the zombie and get to safety. Oddly, the zombie appears to be disinterested in them.
This three-person cast does a remarkable job within the span of about 65 minutes, where discussion and debate ranges from death, attraction, sexual preference, gender, the five second rule – and, especially, the nature of zombie life. As the man with the gun (the characters have no names here), Wilson is the sharp, cynical dominant of the pair; edgy and quick to jump to conclusions, there’s a soft centre under there somewhere. Smith brings a whimsical, at times goofy, philosophical vibe to man without gun; not wanting to take things at face value always, he’s continually questioning the status quo and what they think they know. And Kingstone’s zombie is a masterpiece of sound and movement; with the character based on movement and groan directions in the script, she’s created a distinct personality – bringing humanity to an otherwise wretched and solitary, perhaps even lonely, creature.
Is a zombie an “it” or does it retain its human gender identification – and if the latter, how would you know? And, of course, you can’t speak of monsters without addressing the nature of humanity. And who is that last bullet for?
The show was followed by a short talkback, where we learned that playwright Sun got into theatre when he discovered he missed it while he was in engineering school; he’d been really involved in high school and got into writing sketch comedy at U of T. Dead End came from an exploration of anxiety and depression – particularly internal anxiety versus external stress – Sun found that comedy was a good way to work through stuff; and the last bullet decision is a metaphor for this exploration. Dead End started as a sketch, and Sun realized that there was more to say, so it went from five pages to the 65-minute one-act script we see today. A question about character names and gender came up; the zombie is played by a female actor, but is referred to as “he” (by man without gun, called No Gun in the script) or “it” (by man with gun, called Gun). The characters were written without names, just descriptions, and with no set gender in mind; gender is pretty much irrelevant. One audience member noted that the dialogue is “sporadic and naturalistic” in rhythm and tone, and wondered how much of the play is improv. The cast is strong with the improv force, so Orlando let them riff around the structure of the script, creating a different dynamic every time, but still hitting all the cues (which was a relief to SM Heather Bellingham, I’m sure).
With shouts to the creative team for their amazingly creepy, eerie atmospheric work on this production: Megan Fraser (SPFX) and Valentina Vatskovskaya (production makeup/hair), Melissa Joakim (lighting), Jason O’Brien (sound), Roselie Williamson (costume) and Louisa Zhu (fight director).
Sympathy for the devil and debate on the nature of humanity in darkly comic, thoughtful Dead End.
Dead End continues in the Factory Theatre Studio space until October 23; advance tix available online. Come on out for some good, creepy pre-Halloween fun with two guys and a zombie.
Every person in the room is trying not to get caught staring at your beauty. – A complementary compliment from Blind Date
When Blind Date creator/actor Rebecca Northan announced that her famous clown/improv/audience participation piece would be getting its first time ever gay make-over at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, I was one excited gay lady. And it was a dream come true for those who’d chatted with her on this very subject after performances of Blind Date during its run at Tarragon Theatre last season (I saw a performance and was one of those people).
Northan collaborated with Buddies A.D. Evalyn Parry on this queer couples run of Blind Date, which includes a girl/girl version and a boy/boy version, featuring actors Julie Orton and David Benjamin Tomlinson, directed by Northan. Orton is on this week, as Mimi dating women; next week, Tomlinson appears as Mathieu, dating men; they alternate performances for the final week. Check the show page for the full schedule. I saw Mimi on a girl/girl date in a preview last night, which was followed by a talkback.
Before the show starts, Mimi circulates the bar, chatting with women (including my friend Dee and me; but, alas, we were ineligible because I was there as media) in search of a date selection for the evening. Once inside the packed theatre space, Parry welcomes the audience and gives a brief introduction as we anxiously anticipate the start of the show. Who will Mimi choose?
We find Mimi, a lovely and lively young French clown, drinking a glass of white wine on a café patio, waiting for her blind date to arrive. For two hours! The audience empathizes, feeling bad for Mimi and annoyed at her no-show date. But, a trouper and not feeling like going home, Mimi decides to select a date from the crowd. And she picks Tara. Some brief ground rules: all Tara needs to do is be herself, be honest, including times when she chooses to not answer questions, and project so the audience can hear. Mimi’s job is to take care of her date. Either can call a time out; in this case, they’ll take a break from the play and move down stage right to the time out box, to clarify or sort out any issues that come up.
Orton is adorably charming as Mimi; equal parts playful, bashful and irreverent – and always supportive, complimentary and positive with her date. As the date unfolds, Mimi and Tara, a Gestalt therapist (who we learn in a titillating and fun revelation used to sell sex toys), get to know each other in a natural, organically unfolding way that is lovely to watch. They talk about their day, moving into discussion of family, coming out and their families’ reactions. Though Tara is admittedly nervous at first, Mimi puts her at ease, and the two find real connection through mutual trust and a sense of being present. All while being served by a hilariously surly French waiter (Bruce Horak), who is overseen by the affable, accommodating manager (Tomlinson).
Moving from the café to Mimi’s car, things get wacky as they interact with a police officer, and then continue on for a nightcap at Mimi’s uncle’s apartment, where the scene becomes more intimate and easy-going – and Tara tells an awesome and funny story about a teenage concert outing to see Guns ‘n Roses at the CNE Coliseum. Then the audience gets to choose whether they continue the date or fast-forward to five years into the future. We chose the latter (apparently most audiences do) and we find them in an open marriage, getting ready for bed after a long work day, with even more revelations to come. And all the while, we’ve been falling in love with Mimi and Tara.
The post-show talkback revealed some interesting similarities and difference between the straight and queer versions of Blind Date. Horak noted commented that the constant, universal experience is “the joy of watching two people connect;” guards gradually come down and the “theatre becomes a sacred space” as they get to know each other. Orton mentioned that it’s always a “delicious, delightful challenge” keeping the show going and making the date comfortable.
Having trained at Loose Moose (alongside Horak) with Keith Johnstone (creator of Theatre Sports and Life Game), Northan said the concepts of being present, telling the truth and telling stories – especially in Life Game – became the inspiration for Blind Date. When asked why the noses, Tomlinson said the noses give permission to be open, go bigger and still be safe; it’s a reminder that it’s a play, and it keeps the action playful and prevents things from getting creepy. They also like to think they’re bringing the sexy back to clown.
Northan said she got schooled during her queering of Blind Date – that it wasn’t simply the same deal as the straight version, just with two women or two men. Parry concurred; there was a discovery process. Northan marvelled at how straight audiences tended to be suspicious of the offer of a compliment (served on a slip of paper from a tray during the pre-show mingling), while queer folks dive right in, even asking what the paper colours meant and if this meant they’d be chosen as the date. She also noted that the women had a natural back and forth rhythm to their discussion, asking questions and empathizing with situations; during straight dates, Mimi would ask her date question after question, but it usually took him a while to ask her anything. And, most importantly, situations that straight people would take for granted as a safe space, like being asked by a cop if they’re on a date, becomes a different thing when it’s a same-sex couple. It was a lesson in power dynamics, and they realized they need to be sensitive to situations like that – and, for both straight and queer productions, especially if the date is a person of colour.
Tomlinson commented that sharing and coming together with stories is particularly important and timely right now. And an audience member noted that the storytelling is based in personal experience and how everyone’s story is different – there’s no one way to be queer. Orton (who is a lesbian) noted the differences in her experiences doing the straight and queer versions. As Mimi, she draws from her own life as she gets to know her date and her date gets to know her; and she had to edit, change pronouns and leave out parts of her story during the straight dates. This became problematic for a show about being present, open and truthful. Last night, she shared a story of a secret high school girlfriend for the first time, which was lovely to watch and liberating for her. As for Mimi’s date Tara, she had a great time. She had no idea what she was in for when she came to see the show with a friend, but had been wanting to go on a first date and had even been looking into doing an improv class. Just goes to show you: the universe is listening and delivers.
Rebecca Northan’s baby grows up to be queer in the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s production of Blind Date. Keeping it real, present and loving when Mimi met Tara in last night’s delightfully funny and touching preview.
Callaghan! and the Wings of the Butterfly, written by Seann Murray and Colin Munch, is a hilarious, action-packed homage to the relic hunting Indiana Jones genre. The opening scene finds the gruffly handsome, leather jacket clad Jack Callaghan (Danny Pagett) seated with three disreputable characters, playing Russian roulette in St. Petersburg (where they just call it “roulette”); he’s lost everything he holds dear and he gives no f*cks. Even in his despair, he can’t resist when his burley, fly by the seat of his pants friend Sal (Connor Bradbury) shows up with one last job. They must find the Hunab Ku, an ancient Mayan relic with untold power, before the evil Dr. Klaus Von Handerstopp (Seann Murray) does. As they set upon their mission with their loyal nerd tech support guy Walt (Julian Frid), memories of their lovely, game and resourceful colleague Muriel (Kaitlin Morrow) haunt Callaghan’s every waking moment. During the nail-biting, side-splitting climax, Callaghan comes face-to-face with Von Handerstopp – and must make a hard choice.
Bang-on, hysterically funny characterizations; evocative exposition via brilliantly written narration; and playful, improv-inspired action that uses imaginative props – all delivered with Sex T-Rex’s signature comedic, cinematic and high-energy stylings – Callaghan! is one big kick-ass fun adventure. All this and one helluva dance break (choreography by Robin Henderson).
SwordPlay: A Play of Swords borrows from some swashbuckling favourites that include nods to The Princess Bride, The Three Musketeers and Game of Thrones, as well as 1980s video games. I saw SwordPlay in an earlier double bill back in March (with Watch Out, Wild Kat! at the Storefront Theatre) – and had just as much big fun the second time around.
Epic good times and kick-ass adventure in Sex T-Rex’s Callaghan! and SwordPlay World Tour II double bill.
Sex T-Rex continues their Callaghan!and the Wings of the Butterfly and SwordPlay: A Play of Swords double bill with one more show in Toronto at Unit 102 Theatre tonight (Sat, Aug 20) at 8pm and 9:30 pm, respectively. Then, they’re off to the following cities/venues:
Thursday, August 25 at 8pm – Academic Hall, Ottawa, ON
Friday, August 26 at 8pm – Montreal Improv, Montreal, QC
Sunday, August 28 at 8pm – The Black Box Theatre, Fredericton, NB
September 2-11 – Atlantic Fringe Festival, Halifax, NS