Don’t YOU Forget About Patrick Swayze

scott montgomery, kayla lorette, gary rideout jr., kurt smeaton, dave pearce, jen goodhue
There is a lot to celebrate in the Toronto Comedy Community these days and one of the biggest birthday bashes of them all rocked The Comedy Bar all week as co-owners Gary Rideout Jr. and James Elksnitis celebrated Comedy Bar’s first anniversary in style. On Thursday evening I attended Don’t You Forget About Patrick Swayze in which Darryl Pring assembled a group of Canada’s top improvisers to re-imagine three of Patrick Swayze’s most famous films: Ghost, Point Break and Dirty Dancing.
Don’t You Forget About Patrick Swayze followed a successful series of evenings entitled Don’t You Forget About John Hughes that Pring created, produced and directed earlier this year. The idea is a wonderfully inspired one. A group of improvisers are cast as characters from each individual Swayze film and with a few costume and prop choices they break down the film into its most essential scenes. Pring has obviously built the framework for each of these scenes, but all the specifics of movement and dialogue are left to be discovered by the improvisers before the audience.
The first to be performed was Ghost (1990), a film which in its original incarnation starred Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg. Here, Scott Montgomery played Sam Wheat, Kayla Lorette played Molly Jensen and Chris Gibbs played Carl Bruner. Early in the show the improvisers asked the audience for a few suggestions which changed a few of the central aspects of the plot of the film and out of which came most of the evening’s hilarity and proof of these improvisers’ ingenuity. Kayla Lorette’s Molly, for example, told the audience that it was clear that her character, Molly, felt love for her husband, but asked for another emotion that she could couple with the love to create a richer dynamic for their relationship. The audience chose disgust, and it became delightful to watch Lorette wiggle and resist all of Montgomery’s loving advances. I find that when watching truly skilled improvisers, there are moments when those who have studied Improv can see the performers’ applied mastery of rudimentary improvisational skills. Here, it was fascinating to watch Lorette and Montgomery cling to their characters’ objectives, creating obstacles for one another awhile continuing to change their tactics in attempt to fulfill their goals. This laid the foundation for real fantastic physical comedy and improvised physical comedy can be exhilarating to watch. Scott Montgomery had a particularly fantastic way of reacting to other characters walking through him after he was killed by Willie Lopez (Alastar Forbes) and became a ghost.
The re-imagining of these films also lends itself well to a certain degree of parody and an awareness of the film’s conventions and clichés. References were made to Demi Moore’s superfluous nakedness, the awkward race relations between Molly and Oda Mae Brown (played with flair by the very white Natasha Boomer), and the strange sexual tensions that arise within the threesome of Molly, Oda Mae and Sam.
The pinnacle of the evening came with Gary Rideout Jr.’s brilliant performance as Johnny Utah in Point Break (1991). Rideout is a master of the vacant ‘surfer dude’ expression so essential to the creation of Johnny Utah, and I was so impressed that even with audience suggestions that exchanged Utah’s football fame for bowling and Bodhi’s surfing gang for a sewing gang, Rideout, with Kurt Smeaton (Bodhi) and Bruce Hunter (Angelo Pappas) were able to seamlessly weave their story together with intelligence and hilarity. Bruce Hunter was utterly engaging and gave a wonderfully quirky performance as Pappas, as Kurt Smeaton created an equally off-kilter Bodhi, with brilliant creativity, especially in the discovery of his “ultimate sew”- to weave a herd of live yaks together into a moving blanket that could be seen from space. Of course, Rideout, Smeaton and Hunter wisely alluded to all the ridiculousness of Point Break in their re-imaginings, especially the epic chase scenes, the absurd skydiving and Johnny Utah’s unlikely escape from death as he jumped from an airplane without a parachute, only to land too conveniently on Bodhi and hitch a ride safely to the ground. If you ever get the opportunity to watch Gary Rideout Jr., Kurt Smeaton and Bruce Hunter improvise together, I would strongly recommend seizing it with gusto because they work magnificently together and create really fun and impeccably smooth improvised theatre.
Things became increasingly silly during the show based on Dirty Dancing (1987), possibly because the cast asked for twice as many suggestions from the audience as the casts of Ghost and Point Break earlier in the evening, and therefore they had to contend with a lot of difficult variables within the show. In this version, Baby, the Black Panther sympathizing daughter of a mall Santa went to Scuba Camp and fell in love with Johnny Castle, a talented Scuba teacher suffering from leprosy. While this set definitely had its charming moments, the challenge of incorporating all these variables into Eleanor Bergstein’s story became increasingly apparent, and, as Johnny Castle’s limbs began to fall off, things quickly descended into an absurdity that the performers seemed to be struggling to overcome.
In all, however, I think that Darryl Pring has created something marvelous in his re-imagined improvised films which pay homage to iconic stars who ought to be remembered for the ingenuity, talent and hilarity that defined a generation of films and who certainly provide a brilliant framework out of which a selection of Canada’s most illustrious improvisers can create comedy gold at the Comedy Bar.

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