This Toast’s a Barrel of Monkeys

bob martin and david shore
On Thanksgiving Sunday after filling myself to the absolute limit with the best turkey I have ever had, mountains of mashed potatoes, scalloped carrots, apple pie and pumpkin pie, I found myself at the Gladstone Hotel. On a chalk board over the bar someone had expertly drawn a picture of a monkey, primed to duke it out, versus a giant turkey, who looked far more bewildered, which I think is characteristic of them. This was meant to epitomize the battle that Monkey Toast, the Improvisational Talk Show, would be struggling against as Thanksgiving threatened to keep their audience members cozy and feasting at home. Yet, as I looked around the packed little “ballroom” and people searched for empty chairs, it was clear; the monkey stood triumphant.
Monkey Toast is a very cleverly constructed show that has been produced by David Shore for the past six and half years. The concept is that primarily, there is a talk show, in which David Shore interviews three guests who have an expertise or talent that would appeal to the general public. I assume that these guests are usually public figures in Toronto, especially those in the entertainment industry, as his guests on Thanksgiving Sunday were Sketch Comedy Performer Pat Thornton (The Sketchersons, HOTBOX, Etc.), Deli Owner Zane Caplanski and Tony Award winning actor/improviser/musical book writer Bob Martin. Shore conducts Monkey Toast very much as though he is a Late Night Television Host like David Letterman or Conan O’Brien, he even does an opening monologue. The guests all chat with Shore, as one would in any interview, and tell pertinent stories about their lives and their careers. Pat Thornton did a short Stand-Up routine before settling down to be interviewed, as a young comic might have done on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. What makes this Talk Show unique, apart from the fact that it is “live from the theatre you’re sitting in,” is that after each segment, instead of an incorrigible bout of commercials, Monkey Toast gives you a rousing selection of Improv from the Monkey Toast Players based on some aspect of the interviews that preceded it. The result is incredibly funny, enlightening and entertaining.
I had seen first guest Pat Thornton in The Sketchersons at Comedy Bar last Spring, but I don’t think I had entirely realized that they write brand new sketches every week, so that every Sunday Night Live is a brand new Sketch Show. That is pretty incredible, especially when you take into consideration the quality of their work. You can find HOTBOX on The Comedy Network (which is on your television. Remember those things you watched before Facebook was invented?). Speaking of Facebook, that’s where I first came across Caplansky’s Deli, as Monkey Toast (and Impromptu Splendor) Improvisers Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus had written on their profiles singing the praises of smoked meat sandwiches and lo and behold, the “meat messiah” has arrived at the Monkey. Caplansky is running one of the hottest businesses in town, a place where five hundred customers can easily show up per day, and he has often literally run out of meat before closing time. I have heard there is nothing else like it this side of Montreal, so if you like a good sandwich (and who doesn’t!?) you should wander over to 356 College Street. I’ve been told to ask for the knish.
Of course, I knew Bob Martin because of his Tony Award winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone, which he wrote with Don McKellar, Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, in which he played Man in Chair, Sutton Foster played Janet Van De Graaff and Beth Leavel played the Drowsy Chaperone. Martin is working on at least five projects at the moment, mostly in New York, and fielding phone calls from people like Barry Manilow and other Hollywood huge, huge stars. He told Shore about Geoffrey Rush playing Man in Chair in the Australian Premiere of The Drowsy Chaperone, about the new Broadway show he has in development, a musical called Minsky’s, as well as an adaptation of the film Elf which is slated for a seasonal run on Broadway around Christmas 2010. He also spoke of the oddities one encounters while raising a toddler, and he inspired the improvisers to coin the phrases “rape over the coals” and “Nazi Cancer” in their particularly hysterical, boundary-pushing Improv scenes.
The Monkey Toast Players are incredible in their ability to draw creative inspiration from the stories that are told by the guests, as well as to combine aspects from different stories with astute cleverness. There is a distinct familiarity that these improvisers have with one another that solidifies their performance and their ability to safely go to the boundaries of the scene and to take brave risks, which are thrilling to watch. Paul Constable, Naomi Snieckus and Sandy Jobin-Bevans were especially vibrant to watch on Thanksgiving Sunday. Jan Caruana is brilliant when she throws herself entirely into a character, as she did in one particular moment when she started belting out an improvised pop song with reckless abandon. It was Matt Baram, however, who I felt was giving the most consistently hilarious, the most powerfully dynamic and the most incredibly compelling performance at Monkey Toast. He created this incredibly funny sound effect actor who was dreadful at his job, and this ancient Jewish deli owner who spent his days trying to die and not succeeding, and then, oddly enough, he played Hitler, all with nuance, panache, and heapings of hilarity.
If your Sunday evenings are lonely and cold these days, the Gladstone Hotel Ballroom boasts of warm cozy food, cold, alcoholic beverages, and Monkey Toast: a show as original as its name bringing down the turkey with its own special blend of Toronto’s biggest superstars and comedy as Canadian as bacon.
Monkey Toast plays October 25th at 8:00pm (with Guest Star Colin Mochrie), November 15th at 9pm and December 7th and 20th at 8pm all at the Gladstone Hotel Ballroom, 1214 Queen Street West. All Shows are Pay What You Think The Show Is Worth at the End of the Performance. For more information you can visit this fine website.

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