Chaos Menu: Disorder Up! (The Second City)
The latest revue from Toronto’s Second City brings in four very strong new cast members to join returnees PHATT Al and Andy Assaf in a very silly crowd pleaser of a show at the comedy giant’s fabulous new space. I’m that weirdo who likes a little sadness in my comedy (something Second City was nailing for a few years there) so this show felt a little waifish for my taste but a different kind of audience member will relish goofy sketches about sassy birds or even the gross-out finale I had to look away from.
The newcomers are definitely the highlight. Ron Pederson is an energetic workhorse who brings much-needed vibrancy to the proceedings but it’s the women who really steal the show, highlighted by Liz Johnston’s memorable character work and Devon Henderson’s insightful wit.
The women anchor the evening’s best sketches, which include pretty much all of the show’s social commentary. Coko Galore plays the incredulous straight man as Johnston and Henderson refuse to use the word “black” in any context at brunch; Henderson and Galore lampoon performative political correctness in a bold sketch about employees who let their company burn down around impeccably set personal boundaries; and Johnston is the audience’s increasingly exasperated surrogate in my favourite sketch of the night- a clever warning about the dangers of misinformation masked as an outlandish sendup of dumb podcasters.
There’s not a ton of meat in this latest revue but what’s there is well cooked.
Goodbye Esther (Emily Hughes at The Playground)
It’s very exciting to see circus expanding as an art form that’s accessible to Toronto audiences beyond those big shows in the overpriced tents. The Playground, a new warehouse-style space in the East End is specifically designed for the special needs of circus performance with expansive, adaptable space and key infrastructure for hanging silks and other aerial arts necessities. For her first full length solo show, veteran circus performer Emily Hughes divides The Playground into a small performance area and a surrounding art installation audiences can explore before and after the performance.
The immersive concept is very cool and the level of detail and diversity of experience possibilities is impressive. Unfortunately, the effect is that the actual performance space feels less well thought out, like the production’s least inviting element. The sightlines for the show itself are terrible with even the tallest audience members in the back few rows straining to see any of the action that happens with Hughes’ feet on the ground. Luckily, all the best parts of the show are in the air as Hughes’ steadfast technique in both silks and trapeze shine through despite try-hard incompetence being a trademark of the broad clown character the play is based around.
The grief motifs and beautiful themes of Hughes’ storytelling get a little muddled in the straight clowning sections and the production drags when beautiful but oddly paced projection work takes over the task of balancing the silliness. Goodbye Esther is a great short show concept that’s stretched too far here, distracting from both Esther’s journey and Hughes’ athletic performance.