530814_4361126840723_2116403047_nSay you’ve just started dating this really fun new person. You like them, you want them to think you’re fun and interesting and connected to all the cool things there are to do in the greatest city in the world- Toronto, obviously- but you’ve already taken them to Snakes & Lattes and now you’re out of ideas that would both make you seem cool and actually be fun. Enter Bad Dog Theatre Company. Comedy Bar in general (nestled cooly below street level at 945 Bloor West) is the solution to the aforementioned problem but Bad Dog Theatre- its most prominent improv resident- is a surefire win. Their current show, Hogtown Empire, is a mix of audience-suggested absurdity and historical satire hosted by sly director Peter Stevens.

The cast is a strong assembly of improvisers ranging from wacky and occasionally fun to the mind-bogglingly sharp. The latter, for me, applies mostly to Kayla Lorette who hit it out of the park every time she stepped on stage with jokes that many writers couldn’t have crafted given plenty of notice. I also particularly enjoyed Mark Little’s fast-talking dandy “Tommy Boy” (an amazing feat of brain-to-mouth coordination) and Lindsay Mullan’s 2-words-at-a-time contributions to the court house scene that was one of my favourite sequences in the show despite it being the only scene that stood out for being constructed as an improv game instead of a storytelling vehicle. The show is running for 5 weeks so on any given Wednesday you’ll get an entirely different result but on opening night the weakest offering came from Dan Beirne who seemed to be searching for his jokes more than the others. That’s a totally normal phenomenon at an improv show, but the calibre of this cast is so generally high that if an improvised line seems less than smartly scripted the performer gets left behind. The show is also a slave to audience suggestion at times and- as evidenced by how long it took the cast on opening night to work “ghost stories” into the action- sometimes the audience isn’t much help. But the beauty of improv is that a good performer can think their way out of anything, even slummy, dirty, stinky 1920s Toronto, and every one of these guys can.

Hogtown Empire runs at Comedy Bar every Wednesday until February 13th at 8pm.
For more information visit www.baddogtheatre.com