Toronto Fringe: Into the mouth of the sea lion with the absurd surreal sketch comedy of Swallowed Whole

Carly Telford, Chris O’Bray & Raechel Fisher. Photo by Laura-Kate Dymond.


Irrelephant Productions takes us into the mouth of the sea lion for 55 minutes of absurd sketch comedy, peppered with drag performance and social satire in the wacky, surreal Swallowed Whole, written and directed by Rachel Perry, and running at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse.

Sketch comedy trio Chris O’Bray, Raechel Fisher and Carly Telford take us through a series of comedic, sometimes bizarre, scenarios: a cooking show for poor people, hosted by O’Bray in old lady drag; and a pair of entitled, dick-obsessed slackers (Fisher and Telford in drag) get broromantic to the tune of You Don’t Bring Me Flowers—returning later with O’Bray in a three-man boy band. There’s the misadventures of Calvin (O’Bray), who finds himself trapped in the oddest places—and his pissed of (recent) ex (Fisher), Olive Garden manager (Fisher), and even his mom (Telford) and dad (Fisher) refuse to help. And then there’s the Ouija Board Dating Game, where bachelorette Demi (Fisher) poses a series of compatibility questions to three dead celebrity bachelors (Telford, O’Bray and a surprise guest).

Shouts to the cast for going all-out in their commitment to character and outrageous antics. Telford and Fisher are especially funny as the two slacker bros; and O’Bray’s cooking lady is something of a low-rent Julia Child. And nice work from the trio on the boy band harmonies!

It’s a mad, mad work of bizarre wacky times. And you can wash it all down with a Dougie Ford Buck a Beer beer while you bop your head to the music and marvel at humanity’s endless quirks.

Swallowed Whole continues at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse for two more performances: July 13 at 6:45 and July 14 at 8:00; check the show page for advance tickets.

Teige Reid & Darryl Purvis take us to the Church of the Perpetual LOLs in the Teige & Darryl Do A Show Together Show


Last night, a sizeable crowd gathered up in the Studio at Alumnae Theatre for a one night only evening of laughs and celebration for the Teige and Darryl Do A Show Together Show. Featuring Teige Reid and Darryl Purvis, plus a surprise guest, the celebration part was about Purvis’s 20th anniversary as a stand-up comic.

First up was Purvis with an edgy, hilarious stand-up set that ranged from the personal to the observational. Cheeky, irreverent and sometimes adult (and by that, I mean dirty), topics covered social interaction, autobiography and bizarre, eye-opening experiences. Keeping us laughing as he recorded the set for posterity, we rolled along with bit after bit: extreme social awkwardness meets faux pas in an unfortunate elevator moment; an unusual reception from an American; and a surprisingly disturbing visit to an Alberta strip club in Red Deer—to name just a few.

Purvis’s underlying vibe of awkwardly shy, beer loving introvert translates well into some sharply delivered self-deprecating humour and storytelling. With a twinkle in his eye the whole time, he plays on the edge of shock and ‘aw, shucks’—and delivers it with an engaging east coast kitchen party flavour (or maybe that’s because, like Purvis, I spend more time at Reid’s kitchen table than I do my own).

After a brief intermission, it was Reid’s turn; showcasing bits from his solo shows, including In Vino Veritas, and a surprise guest appearance. Philosophy, religion and politics emerge in a blend of social satire, scathing political commentary and whip-smart insight. From the snake-like Southern minister preaching salvation with a gambling angle, to the darkly funny Church of the Gun’s take on The Three Little Pigs, to the drunken wisdom of Rory MacFadden and his philosophy of transcendental intoxication, Reid has us laughing, thinking—and sticking it to the likes of Trump, the NRA and sociopolitical dumbassery in general.

A sharply tuned wordsmith, entertainer and social agitator, Reid is a mercurial and cerebral performer with a bang-on sense of comic timing, a dark edge and a great sense of fun. Julian Sark joined Reid for a hysterically quirky two-hander to close the set. Was Cletus afflicted by the delayed effects of puberty or Lycanthropy? In any event, you’ve definitely never seen a silver bullet cure like this one.

Teige Reid and Darryl Purvis take us to the Church of the Perpetual LOLs with sharp, observational stand-up and storytelling in Teige and Darryl Do A Show Together Show. This was one night only, but keep an eye out for Reid and Purvis performing around the city.

Lightning round social satire that burns so good in Second City Toronto’s hilariously insightful Come What Mayhem!

Kyle Dooley, Ann Pornel, Lindsay Mullan, Becky Johnson, Brandon Hackett & Roger Bainbridge (top) – photo by Paul Aihoshi

This past year has been a tumultuous one, with some hysterically funny and horrible examples of human dumbassery. Taking on the trends and issues of 2016, Second City Toronto digs deep and burns hard in its sharply funny Come What Mayhem! Mainstage revue.

Written by the ensemble and directed by Carly Heffernan, assisted by Nigel Downer, with music direction by Lee Cohen, Come What Mayhem! features SC Toronto veterans and new faces: Roger Bainbridge, Kyle Dooley, Becky Johnson, Brandon Hackett, Lindsay Mullan and Ann Pornel. Tackling everything from relationships and dating, bullying and consent, Black Lives Matter and racism, politics, transit, health and gender, the cast holds no punches – and delivers each scene with mercurial timing and big laughs in this hilariously scathing look at ourselves and our world.

Lindsay Mullan, Ann Pornel & Becky Johnson – photo by Racheal McCaig

Stand-outs include the wistful romantic musings of Mullan’s quiet Shoppers Drug Mart clerk, which included audience participation; Pornel and Dooley’s Tinder chat, with its pointed look at how we exoticize race; and Johnson’s hysterically awkward navigation of her date’s (Bainbridge) encounters with his exes. The show also features some thought-provoking moments. Hackett goes from poignant and introspective when date night meets Black Lives Matter (with Mullan) to outrageously funny as the guy who’s proud as heck about his restaurant order (where he also showcases his singing chops); the no-nonsense Pornel (who also brings awesome vocals to a song about her perfect guy) schools her girls’ night out bffs (Johnson and Mullan) on what “fat” is and isn’t; and Bainbridge is electric as the darkly funny game show host of You Oughta Know, which also featured audience participation and consequences as it slammed ignorance about world issues.

Roger Bainbridge – photo by Racheal McCaig

Last night’s show ended with a third set, where the ensemble did some rounds of improv; riffing off audience suggestions with witty word play and a scene that took us from a barber shop to France in a wacky trip of hair styling and relationships.

With shouts to set designer Camillia Koo for the awesome Gardiner Expressway structure and graffiti art; and to SM/lighting designer Meg Maguire for keeping things moving along smartly, and snapping us in and out.

Lightning round social satire that burns so good in Second City Toronto’s hilariously insightful Come What Mayhem!

Take a look in the Come What Mayhem! mirror and laugh – it sure as hell beats the alternative. For show times and tickets, check online.


SummerWorks: Prairie Home Companion meets The Twilight Zone in hilariously absurd, satirical dystopia Plucked


Banjo-playing rooster-man masterminds a fiendish scheme to amass great wealth by turning women into chickens and selling their chicken-lady eggs.

This is the bizarre world in which we find ourselves in Rachel Ganz’s Plucked, in its Newborn Theatre production directed by Carly Chamberlain; now running in the Theatre Centre Mainspace for SummerWorks.

Yep, we’re down on Jerry’s (Tim Walker) farm, where father-in-law Rooster (Tim Machin, doing double duty as music director) has hatched a plan to turn his daughter Abigail (Sochi Fried) and granddaughter Fourteen (Qianna MacGilchrist) into chickens so he can sell their eggs and make buckets of cash – and he succeeds in turning Abigail with Jerry’s help. Also assisting is Mud (Faisal Butt), anthropomorphized mud that’s become Rooster’s minion. But have no fear, Harley the hunky farm boy (Tyrone Savage), in love with Fourteen, has a plan to save her from Rooster and Jerry’s scheme, then run away together.

It’s an absurd story told through hilariously outrageous bluegrass music and narration (led by Rooster) and scenes of crazy action that include Harley’s “borrowed” tractor (a tricycle) getting stuck in the mud (held by Mud). Not for the faint of heart, misogynist and socially unacceptable language (Abigail was “the fat lady” before she turned; and Harley is called a “retard”) peppers the lyrics and dialogue – with a purpose. Beyond the insanity of this politically incorrect backwoods dystopia is some cutting satire that sends up a fearful and greedy patriarchal society – one that exerts extreme control over its women and their reproductive organs, as well as the men it judges to be less than a ‘real man.’

The cast does a remarkable job with all the insanity. Machin is a diabolical delight as Rooster, the man turned farm foul who’s taken his cock of the walk status to extreme lengths. Always a treat to watch, Walker is hilarious as the numbskull Jerry; he likes to think he’s in charge, but he’s really just a dumbass bully following Rooster’s orders. Fried does a lovely job with Abigail’s conflicting feelings; mortified but defiant in her new chicken-lady body, she refuses to lay eggs. Great physicality and some beautiful, poignant moments with her daughter Fourteen. MacGilchrist’s Fourteen is a feisty, defiant force to be reckoned with; it is she who drives the plans to get away with Harley – giving the impression that, ultimately, it’s love and not a man that will save her. Savage is adorably dim but determined as Harley; a male Daisy Duke in cut-off jeans and plaid flannel, he is a genuinely kind and gentle man with a good heart who would do anything for Fourteen. Butt gives an entertaining performance as Mud, Rooster’s wise-cracking sidekick; he also does a mean percussion.

As you’re laughing at the craziness of it all, you’re also feeling uncomfortable. The absurdity reveals nuggets of truth that we don’t have to look far to find – and that is what’s truly disturbing.

Prairie Home Companion meets The Twilight Zone in the hilariously absurd, satirical dystopia of Plucked.

Plucked continues at the Theatre Centre Mainspace until Aug 14.

Toronto Fringe: Biting social & immigration satire in sharp, startling, physical Silk Bath

_mg_8896_1280x853 silk bath

The Silk Bath Collective gives us a scathing, darkly funny and deeply moving send-up of western society and its biases toward Asian immigrants in Silk Bath. Co-written by director Aaron Jan, producer Gloria Mok and performer Bessie Cheng, the show is currently running in the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace during Toronto Fringe.

Set as a bizarre reality TV show where contestants are held in cells, new immigrants compete for social acceptance in their new country through a series of physical and verbal tests, where they gain points for giving the correct Western response and dominating in martial arts bouts. The dialogue is delivered in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, with projected surtitles.

When we first enter the theatre, we see three contestants already onstage, each seated on a mat with a metal bucket. Clementine (Dorcas Chiu), who careful tends her clementine tree; Mutt (En Lai Mah) looks after his sore knee; and the Old Lady (Amanda Zhou) sits up centre, lost in her thoughts as she wrings out a tea towel. A new arrival appears as the action commences: New Girl (Bessie Cheng) wide-eyed and eager to learn. We soon learn that each has an agenda of his/her own in addition to winning the prize.

Lovely work from the cast in this physical and emotional piece. Chiu gives Clementine a strong but wary nurturing quality, combined with a sense of natural leadership; seeking to make alliances, her way is to band together to find a way out. As Mutt, Mah gives us a man of masks; although Mah harbours a bitter and cynical attitude, he knows how to play the game and give the answers he knows the judges want to hear and he’s not above sabotage to gain points. Zhou brings a solitary dignity to Old Lady; a veteran contestant determined to win by ongoing analysis and stamina, she longs to be reunited with her love after a long separation. Cheng’s New Girl is a bright and feisty underdog; learning the ropes of this new and strange place, she is driven to succeed, and keeps a positive and hopeful attitude despite her confusion and nervousness. All want out of this place – and we find out how far each is willing to go in order to gain freedom.

With shouts to the design team: Aram Heydarian (set/costumes), Kevin Feliciano (projection/sound) and Logan Cracknell (lighting) for their inventive and evocative work to create this world.

Biting social and immigration satire in sharp, startling, physical Silk Bath.

Silk Bath continues at the Tarragon Mainspace, with only two more performances: today (Fri, July 8) at 4:15 p.m. and Sat, July 9 at 8:00 p.m.; highly recommended. For ticket info and advance tickets, check out the Fringe website.

p.s.: Because he’s crazy (his word, not mine), playwright/director Aaron Jan has another show in Fringe this year: Rowing, playing at the Kensington Conference Centre. I saw it in October 2015 and highly recommend it.


Insight & delight in a satirical battle of the sexes in highly entertaining You Never Can Tell

Stephen Vani & Sara Jackson, with Heather Goodall looking on, in You Never Can Tell – photo by Douglas Griesbach

I don’t often make the trip out to Fairview Library Theatre, but for Stage Centre Productions, I was willing to make an exception, to see their production of George Bernard Shaw’s You Never Can Tell, directed by Scott Griffin, which opened to an enthusiastic audience last night.

Inspired by commedia dell’arte and with the hallmark social satire that we’ve come to know and love about Shaw’s work, You Never Can Tell pits reason against romance in a pre-20th century battle of the sexes. Set at an English seaside resort on one August day in 1896, energetic, playful twins Dolly (Sara Jackson) and Phillip Clandon (Stephen Vani) make the acquaintance of bachelor dentist Valentine (Holm Bradwell) during Dolly’s visit for a tooth extraction. All are newcomers, and this is the twins’ first time in England, having been raised by their mother (Heather Goodall) with their older sister Gloria (Kate MacDonald) in Madrid. The fact that they don’t know their father is shocking to Valentine, who finally accepts the twins’ invitation to lunch when they’re able to come up with a grandfather; he is also smitten when he meets Gloria. Before they leave the dental office, the twins meet Valentine’s ornery landlord Fergus Crampton (Michael Chodos), who is put out with a bad tooth and six weeks’ back rent owing from Valentine – and who has a wife and three children he hasn’t seen in 18 years – and he is invited to lunch as well.

You can probably see where this is going. The twins have unwittingly invited their estranged father to lunch and all heck breaks loose, turning this surprising and unwelcome family reunion into a legal battle when Crampton takes issue with how the twins were raised and demands custody. The Clandons’ lawyer Finch McComas (Fabio Saposnik) comes to the rescue and enlists the aid of Bohun, Q.C. (Stephen Flett) to mediate the matter – and to great and satisfactory effect. In the meantime, Gloria and Valentine spar over their feelings for each other, complete with manipulation, revelation and adoration – not to mention some telling and funny hypocrisy and double standards. All this under the care and watchful eye of William (whose real name is Walter) the hotel waiter (Roger Kell), who has a surprise family reunion of his own with his lawyer son.

You Never Can Tell is Shaw at his wittiest, fast-paced best – and this cast is more than up for it. Jackson and Vani are a rambunctious treat as the mercurial chatterbox twins. Jackson is endearing as Dolly, with her unstoppable curiosity and lack of discretion; and Vani has a quixotic and dramatic flare as Phillip, a self-professed expert observer of the human condition. Goodall brings a lovely combination of world-wise intellect and warmth to the direct, forward-thinking Mrs. Clandon; a modern woman and author who chose to leave the unbearable confines of a loveless marriage to a harsh husband, her family may be unconventional, but her children are educated and loved. MacDonald’s Gloria is statuesque, stoic and whip smart; brought up to embrace science and reason, she is shocked and ashamed by her feelings towards Valentine, but refuses to be put down by them. There’s some great chemistry with Bradwell’s Valentine, who blends nicely the romantic and sentimental with the studied and observant; and the two are so well matched, you can’t tell who’s winning.

Chodos’s Crampton is a great combination of glowering grump and baffled traditionalist; appalled by the twins’ behaviour, he can’t help but be charmed by them. He’s not a bad man, just a stubborn one with old-school, outdated standards who’s resistant to change. Other stand-outs include Kell’s William, a delightfully affable, philosophical, class-conscious man who sees things for the way they are, but is nevertheless optimistic enough to allow room for change. It is William who utters, time and again, the words that form the play’s title. Saposnik gives McComas some hilarious layers; a put-upon lawyer trying to maintain a professional, serious demeanour as he struggles to take charge of an unruly situation – and even more unruly clients in the Clandons – he’s an outsider, yet part of the family. And, although we don’t see him till the final scene, Flett is a memorable and strong presence as Bohun, the commanding, astute and sharp Q.C. who can present a situation in a way others hadn’t considered – and to insightful and comical effect.

With shouts to the set designer Todd Davies and lighting designer Michael Walsh for creating a magically light, airy and open seaside environment; and wardrobe coordinator Gayle Owler for assembling the striking period costumes.

Insight and delight in a satirical battle of the sexes in Stage Centre Productions’ highly entertaining You Never Can Tell.

You Never Can Tell continues at the Fairview Library Theatre until Saturday, May 28, 2016; the show runs Friday to Sunday this week and Wednesday to Saturday next week, with an 8 p.m. curtain – except for May 22 and 28, which are 2 p.m. matinee days. You can book ahead by calling the box office at 416-299-5557 to reserve tickets or book online. Advance booking strongly recommended, as this is a popular show – and rumour has it the run is on the way to being sold out.

Stage Centre Productions is very excited about its upcoming 40th season; Artistic Director Michael James Burgess had this to say:

We will be kicking off our 40th Season (my 6th as Artistic Director) in September with the North American premiere of an English comedy called Entertaining Angels by Richard Everett, which broke box office records at the Chichester Festival Theatre a few years ago. That production received widely positive reviews, receiving 5 stars from the Edinburgh Guide with The Sunday Times writing that “Richard Everett has written a warm, glowing, serious comedy, like an Ayckbourn play finished by JM Barrie,” while the London Evening Standard reviewed the play as a “very English comedy with some real emotion … scratch the surface and you’ll find interesting undercurrents rippling the water … Adultery, miscarriage, divorce and deception interestingly handled all, are just some of the problems that writer Richard Everett beds down among well-received jokes … This is a sure-fire hit.”

So mark Thursday, September 29 in your calendars for first night.

In the meantime, enjoy the May 24 long weekend, all!

Hilariously scathing social satire in Jeff Cottrill’s This Album is NIT FENNY! spoken word CD

I’ve described Jeff Cottrill as a stand-up poet, his work an LOL funny mash-up of stand-up comedy and spoken word that pokes fun at individual and societal silliness – and this is in high evidence in his recent spoken word CD This Album is NIT FENNY!

This Album is NIT FENNY! features 12 tracks of original work, performed by Cottrill, with Mike Bryant joining him on two pieces. From the pointed send-up of mainstream movies and the cult of celebrity in “Pitches” and “Hallie Berry,” to extremist left-wing politics and activist posers in “How to Become a Deranged Leftist Reactionary” and “IAmSoOffended?” to Darwin Award-winning stupidity in “Safety Instructions” (one of my personal faves) and “Politics” – this is spoken word that neither suffers fools nor pities them.

Cottrill’s work has not been without controversy. He’s been accused of being offensive, and that he makes fun of social awareness, left-wing activists and feminists. Everyone’s entitled to his/her own opinion. I’ve seen him perform several times, including bits from this record, and my take is that what he’s making fun of is stupidity, extremism and intolerance. Basically, Cottrill is pointing out that anyone can be a jackass – which means we’re all capable of jackassery. And his tongue-in-cheek stand-up delivery results in performances that stay clear of mean-spiritedness.

Cottrill even sends up his own acquaintances, as well as himself, in the hysterical build up of bullshit excuses from a guy who claims he won’t be able to see a friend’s show in “The Jim Show,” and the sarcastic praise (from a female point of view) to his own personal quirks and shortcomings in “Dreamboat” (which I’d love to hear Dame Helen Mirren read sometime).

NITFENNY_FrontBack_01Jeff Cottrill’s This Album is NIT FENNY! is hilariously scathing social satire delivered via spoken word – and no form of wackjobbery is safe, no matter how well-intentioned.

You can catch Cottrill in and around Toronto at various poetry/spoken word events and open mics, including Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir; you can check out upcoming events here. You can also keep up with Cottrill’s shenanigans on Twitter and Facebook, and various other links.