adam cawley, kris saddiqi, rob baker
photo by marcel st. pierre
The Second City is lauded as being “the world’s premier comedy theatre,” with resident stages in Chicago and Toronto, and, as a lucrative tourist destination and theatrical landmark, between these two cities some of the world’s funniest comedians entertain over one million guests every year. For this reason, The Second City is continually attempting to balance its need to produce entertainment that will delight and charm the masses (corporate, tourist and otherwise), while still continuing to dedicate itself to the creation of insightful, powerful, political satire that uses comedy to critically examine our world. Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes, the newest revue on the Second City Mainstage, is the closest show I have seen yet to achieving this balance.
This revue is infused with vigour and intensity from the moment the performers first storm the stage and their momentum accelerates with each successive sketch, to ensure that not a single moment falls flat. Indeed, there is not a single weak sketch in this show, it is simply crammed, both tightly and precisely, with back to back laughs, clever writing, strong performances and a powerful and clearly executed vision. Chris Earle directs the piece crisply, making effective use of lighting and space to create the illusion of constant movement and bringing the performers into the audience, in typical Second City style, which literally encloses them within the world of the show.
All linked to the initial image of protests, satirizing the recent police and riot escapades that surrounded the G20 Summit earlier this summer, the sketches in this revue both emerge topically from current events impacting Torontonians today and reach out beyond to reflect a wider North American experience so that a thorough knowledge of Toronto’s recent societal and political affairs is not necessary to connect with the essence of the jokes. From the realization by a pair of overwhelmed parents that their dreams are dead and that pawning off their children will leave them desolate in their old age to a mother’s desperate battle to get her children ready for the cottage, backseat driving from the aggravating IPhone addict and the worst case scenario of the awkwardness that ensues when two Facebook Friends who dislike and barely know one another, meet face to face, these sketches satirize that which is familiar in a way that is intelligent and compelling, yet, can also be considered safe in that they are unlikely to incite a provocative reaction.
I found that Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes was enhanced profoundly by the inclusion of two sketches in particular, which I think do delve into controversial territory and make strong, pertinent, political statements. The first begins with the admission by Rob Baker that he feels uncomfortable talking about Israel and then launches into a battle of knowledge with Baker and Adam Cawley each making intelligent, well-informed arguments criticizing and advocating (respectively yet overtop of one another) Israel’s foreign policy. The scene culminated with a line, spoken by Baker, that packed a palpable punch. There was also a compelling sketch about our forgotten war in Afghanistan with an unsettling twist ending. I will likely always urge The Second City to push their boundaries harder and to keep taking bigger risks and to tackle more challenging issues armed with wit and intellect, but I was pleased to see some substantial perspectives and concepts emerging from within all the laughter in this show.
As with most sketch troupes, Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes ultimately works so well because of its exorbitantly talented ensemble. Each of the six performers are given equal opportunity to shine and bring their own particular brand of hilarity to the whole. Dale Boyer is particularly fantastic as a slippery politician speaking at a press conference regarding Canada’s nonexistent Environmental Platform, whose perfect comic timing allows her to evade having to make any real statement. Caitlin Howden shows off her diva prowess with her rendition of the newest pop hit of September 2010, and also gives a simultaneously hilarious and heartfelt performance as a mother who needs to throw a temper tantrum in order to prove to her children that she means business. Inessa Frantowski and Rob Baker are physical comedy gold in a scene where two exes discuss the parameters of cheating and Frantowski is the reigning Queen of Awkward in various incarnations, always to much delight. Howden, Frantowski and Kris Siddiqi also shine particularly bright in a space scene, where not only is the conceit delightful, but their semblances of floating borderline on magical. My favourite sketch in this show is one that I think exceeds the punch line and features a grippingly stoic and heart rendering performance by Kris Siddiqi, as a son who caused a catastrophe at his father’s funeral captured on (a now viral YouTube) video. Adam Cawley and Rob Baker also give subtle performances as his friends and the sketch builds slowly toward its hilarious apex, while also embracing its own sombreness and making dramatic use of emotionally charged silence. This is Siddiqi at his best.
As a whole, I strongly urge you to head down to The Second City (99 Blue Jays Way) to catch this revue. Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes. Really, the title says it all.
For more information or to book your tickets please call 416.343.0033 or visit online at www.secondcity.com.
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- Caitlin Howden