Second City serves up the fun with a trippy mashup of holiday classics in Twist Your Dickens

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 The Colbert 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.

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Karen Parker, Sarah Hillier & Patrick McKenna in Twist Your Dickens – all photos by Paul Aihoshi

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.

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Seán Cullen & Sarah Hillier in Twist Your Dickens

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.

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Sympathy for the devil & debate on the nature of humanity in darkly comic, thoughtful Dead End

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Christian Smith, Ceridwen Kingstone & Chris Wilson in Dead End – photo by Samantha Hurley

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.

You can keep up with Theatre Lab on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Epic good times & kick-ass adventure in Sex T-Rex’s World Tour II: Callaghan! & SwordPlay

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I think we can all safely say that last night’s opening of Sex T-Rex’s World Tour II production of Callaghan! and the Wings of the Butterfly and SwordPlay: A Play of Swords was the sweatiest fun Sex T-Rex show yet. At Unit 102 Theatre for a two-night run before heading east, the Sex T-Rex double bill will be the last show running in the Unit 102 space – and Unit 102 Theatre Company is in the process of looking for a new home. Both shows are directed by Alec Toller, with fight choreography by Kevin MacPherson.

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

You can keep up with all things Sex T-Rex on Twitter and Facebook.

Toronto Fringe: Post-apocalyptic mayhem and LOLs for days in hilarious, action-packed Wasteland

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Sex T-Rex is back at Toronto Fringe again with their own special brand of physical, film-inspired scripted comedy – this time, with Wasteland, directed by Alec Toller, running at the Randolph Theatre.

The world has been turned into a desert, complete with radioactive zones, a rebar forest and a mutant-infested mall. One glimmer of hope exists, though: The King (Josef Addleman) broadcasting rock ‘n roll from a radio station in Graceland – not a myth, but a life-saving mutant repellant. Over at the Compound, where Marshall (Seann Murray) is the Boss’s right-hand man, an unassuming janitor named Ernest (Conor Bradbury) is forced to make a choice. And he chooses Graceland. With his loyal, feisty sidekick Boy (Kaitlin Morrow) at his side, Ernest travels through dangerous territory and guts for days, pursued by Marshall and his gang. Their journey includes a stopover at the mutant-infested mall, where Professor Mulworth (Julian Frid) and his secret lab may be their last hope. In order to prevail, Ernest must become the hero even he never expected.

Drawing on movie lore from the likes of Mad Max and Tank Girl, the cast does a kick-ass job with the storytelling, which includes awesome fight scenes, car chases, inventive props, awesome puppetry and a rawkin’ soundtrack. Dark comedy abounds, with some surprising poignant moments and plot twists that will keep you laughing and on the edge of your seat. Plus, the show’s program includes a free, hand-drawn map of the Wasteland world.

Post-apocalyptic mayhem and LOLs for days in hilarious, action-packed Wasteland.

Wasteland continues at the Randolph Theatre, with two more performances tonight (Fri, July 8) at 7:30 p.m. and Sat, July 9 at 12:00 p.m. For ticket info and advance tickets, check out the Fringe website.

Rootin’ tootin’, swashbuckling good time had by all at Sex T-Rex double feature Sex T-Rep

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Sex T-Rex opened its hilarious, action-packed Sex T-Rep at the Storefront Theatre to a full house last night, with a double feature line-up of Watch Out Wildkat! and Swordplay: A Play of Swords.

Sex T-Rex is: Conor Bradbury, Julian Frid, Kaitlin Morrow (co-producer), Seann Murray (co-producer) and Daniel Pagett; with director Alec Toller and stage manager Katherine Belyea.

Watch Out Wildkat! A classic tale of revenge in the wild west takes a supernatural turn as Wildkat (Morrow) sets out to kill the man that killed her Pa (Pagett). As she tracks the varmint down, she meets the Devil (Bradbury), who has a hold on her Pa. Forced to make a deal with the Devil to save her Pa’s soul, Wildkat becomes his hired gun as the two set off to hunt down Spider (Murray), who is threatening to usurp the Devil. And when you make a deal with the Devil… Add some hysterically inept prospectors (Bradbury, Frid, Murray and Pagett) and you got yerself some high noon, good, bad and ugly good ‘ole times.

The cast does an outstanding job with this cowboy adventure, with the whole gang playing multiple roles. As Wildkat, Morrow is a driven, ruthless and formidable fighter with both fists and gun, her singlemindedness is tempered only by her good heart and love for her Pa. Bradbury is hilariously devious as the shape-shifting, and oftentimes befuddled, Devil; a creature who loves the boozing and shenanigans, but not so happy to forced into some hard work in order to defeat his enemy. Murray is diabolical as Spider, a terrifying and cold presence, and unbeatable at the poker table; and he gives a great comedic turn as the toothless prospector Curly. Frid is a riot as the interrupting, poncho-wearing Lonesome Cowboy, the narrator of this tale; and Pagett is hysterical and the grinning, ineffectual star-hatted Sheriff.

Watch Out Wildkat! is a rootin’ tootin’, sharp shootin’ good time.

Swordplay: A Play of Swords. Video game meets The Princess Bride meets The Three Musketeers meets Game of Thrones meets every other swordy thing you’ve ever seen. When his beloved Princess Pimpernel (Morrow) is abducted by the evil Baron Thorne (Frid), fallen knight Barnabas (Bradbury) sets out to rescue her. With the assistance of brother in arms Salvatore (Murray), the two face great odds and, outnumbered, battle their way into the Baron’s stronghold. But the maiden in distress is not what she appears to be, and when the two knights come face to face with a former comrade, things really get bent. Sword fights, magic, vintage video game graphics and a dragon – and did I mention that it’s all framed in the present day, as Grandpa (Pagett) plays an old video game with his sick granddaughter (Morrow)?

Once again, the cast does an awesome job with the genre. As Barnabas, Bradbury is channeling Oliver Reed from The Three Musketeers; a haunted man struggling to carry on when he’s lost everything he held dear, but ultimately unwilling to give up the fight. Murray’s Salvatore is very Inigo Montoya, a passionate Spaniard and master swordsman, loyal to his friends and death to his enemies. Morrow’s Princess Pimpernel is a combination of Cersei and Daenerys; cunning and fierce, she is not as helpless as she appears. Frid is deliciously evil as the manipulative Baron Thorne and later – as an even more dangerous foe to our intrepid heroes, using magic and fire to confound and defeat all who stand in his path. And Pagett is hilarious as the warm-hearted, smart-ass Grandpa – taking a page from Peter Falk’s book – and the neglected, put-upon servant Igor, a man of low self-esteem who just needs a kind word now and again.

Swordplay: A Play of Swords is a swashbuckling, magical trip of camaraderie, good vs. evil an old-school gaming.

Both shows draw inspiration from pop culture, genre film and TV, and a child-like sense of fun – and the playful, imaginative storytelling, and use of props and cinematic staging adds to the laugh out loud good times.

But wait – there’s more! Popcorn, booze, awesome Sex T-Rex merch (including gatch) and super friendly folks. And the program includes fun and handy cowboy and swordplay quote generators!

A rootin’ tootin’, swashbuckling good time was had by all at Sex T-Rex double feature Sex T-Rep.

Sex T-Rep continues to March 27 at Storefront Theatre. It’s an intimate space and a very popular company, so advance booking is strongly recommended. Book tix online; both shows run every night, and you can book one show for $20 or both for $30.