If you missed it at the Toronto Fringe, you can breathe easy. Toronto, I Love You, an unconventional, improvised love letter to the city of Toronto from the Bad Dog Repertory Players (BDRP), is back for a two-week stint at Bad Dog’s west end theatre. This unique, surprisingly intimate show fits perfectly in the wood-paneled space where you can sip your beer and smell the improvisers sweat (the sweet, sweet smell of creative bodies listening, responding, and weaving stories together). Now— all cards on the table—I love this little theatre. But my bias aside, improv novices and experts alike are bound to enjoy this hilarious, heartwarming bit of topophilia.
Think of a secret place in Toronto that you love. A gem tucked away behind the concrete; a diamond in the ruff, if you will. BDRP member Colin Munch opened the show telling us his: a little beach on the Don River, under a bridge near the waterfront. Craig Anderson continued describing a lone seat in the skydome at the apex of the stadium. Opening the question to the audience, one audience member told us about the green house in High Park, behind the zoo. These three spots became the three locations for the show. BDRP cycled through one setting to the next, in a clear exposition-conflict-resolution structure, and ending, delightfully, with a group song. Toronto, I Love You is what good improv is all about: a solid, creative structure; imaginative and talented improvisers; and active listening, responding and co-creating. BDRP were able to animate any scene, object or event with surprising accuracy and just a touch of quirkiness, resulting in a lively, energetic show. Highlights included when one improviser yelled at the climax, “the bridge is falling down!” and in moments, the entire group was on stage, animating the bridge, falling together, until they were just a pile of rubble (bodies) on the floor. The overall tone is one of reciprocity—the BDRP embody perfectly the “yes and” improv ethos with their active listening and imaginative working together.
What was most surprising about Toronto, I Love You was how wonderfully heartwarming it was. While many improv shows dwell in the land of the ridiculous or outrageous, Toronto, I Love You lives in one of whimsy. It’s truly a love letter. And while of course allowing the improv to go where it will, resulting in some truly side-splitting moments, there is an underlying spirit of love. It’s a show that’s not overdone or outrageous, with humor that is both smart and silly, both quietly sweet and delightfully raucous. This balance is hard to strike in improv, but Toronto, I Love You, gets it to a tee. This overall energy is brilliantly enhanced by the musical styling of Nick Di Gaetano, who, on guitar, improvises the soundtrack of the entire show.
Most of all, this show makes you think about the parts of the city that you love—your secret, or not-so-secret, gems that make this city home. And when they asked us, I thought of Bad Dog itself. Toronto, I Love You is exemplary of many things. It’s an exemplary love letter. It’s an exemplary improv show. And finally, it’s exemplary of Bad Dog, and what makes this space special. There is something uniquely intimate about this little theatre. But I can’t be that person, I thought, when they opened up the favourite-space question to the audience. I can’t be that person that said, “Bad Dog Theatre is one of my favourite spots in the city.” But maybe I can. Toronto, I Love You allows an unpretentious love of place. It gives you the courage to drop the L-word without cliché, expectation or apology. It asks us to say those three words to everything from the polluted Don River, to the greenhouse that grows all the city’s flowers.
So here it goes: Toronto, I love you.