Scott Sneddon is Senior Editor on SesayArts Magazine where he is also a critic and contributor.
The TTC is the unexpected setting for the Second City’s 82nd Mainstage revue Walking on Bombshells. Osgoode Station has swallowed the mainstage, signalling that this is a decidedly local show (and one that will feature intermittent TTC-focused humour.) The titular bombshells are explosive, but unlike last year’s brilliant She the People, or even the Christmas show It’s a Wild, Rowdy Wonderful Life, they don’t find a fuse in political or social justice issues. Under the crisp direction of Chris Earle and assistant Ashley Botting, this show’s explosions are cultural, observational and intimate. They’re situation-driven and set in recognizable locations: a fast food restaurant, a park, the TTC (of course), a plane, a hospital room, the workplace, an apartment, a friend’s home. They’re not uniquely Toronto, but they’re perfectly at home here.
They’re also super-fast and super-funny. The experience of the show is like zooming all over the city on your 2-hour Presto Card transfer (yes, there are Presto jokes). The strongest skits involve the full or near-full cast presenting a diverse range of inputs on a singular issue . . . until the surface hilarity peels back to expose layers of devastating critique. One of the funniest – and darkest – sees characters sharing what they are watching on Netflix, then extending this spectatorship to other aspects of their lives. In another, the cast trade hilarious and escalating accusations of stereotyping . . .without putting the accusations into actual words. In a third, the cast turn the tables and train an increasingly judgmental gaze on the audience. In between and around these ensemble pieces are smaller sketches in every permutation – from 10-second solo mini-pantomime up to shorter and longer duos, trios, and more.
The show ‘s perverse specialty is comic excruciation that is equal parts laughter and mortification. Chris Wilson is an unbearably hyperkinetic good dad who’s trying way too hard, and Allana Reoch is his painfully non-responsive child. In squirm-inducing physical performances, Stacey McGunnigle is a drunk woman who’s ordered a pizza and a hospital patient in traction asking about how she got there. Reoch and Nadine Djoury trade hilarious compliments from uncomfortably close quarters. Rasool and PHATT Al are a doctor and patient sparring over a cringeworthy diagnosis.
You get the idea: the range and pace are ferocious. I like my comedy shows best when they are unrelenting, which describes perfectly the first half of Walking on Bombshells. The second half is a bit more uneven, but surprises with unexpected sweetness and heart beneath the laughter. In one instance, Chris Wilson sings about a high note he needs to reach. In a second, an elderly white woman (Allana Reoch) and her “black friend” (PHATT Al) are feeding the ducks. My one critique of the Christmas show was how certain sketches embraced meaningful subject matter or built rich characters, but then squandered the accumulated emotional weight with a reductive, cheap final laugh. In both these sketches, the team resists this temptation, sticking the landing with a sweet and satisfying close that is less a guffaw than a satisfied smile. These memorable choices ring true.
The sole misstep for me was the closing number. It brings us back to the framing device, to riff off the TTC’s announcement code for a suicide attempt. For me – and I wager for anyone whose life has been touched by suicide – this bombshell sprays shrapnel in unintended and unfortunate directions, at the close of what has otherwise been a night of top-notch virtuoso ensemble comedy.
Be warned, but don’t let this put you off. Like Toronto at its best, Walking on Bombshells is fast-paced, hilarious and has surprising heart. Life in the city can be a physical, mental and spiritual grind. Walking on Bombshells is a welcome and apolitical evening of local comedy catharsis, where the accomplished comedians of The Second City blow things up real good.
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What: Walking on Bombshells, The Second City Toronto’s 82nd Revue; Director: Chris Earle; Musical Director: Jordan Armstrong; Stage Manager: Georgia Priestley-Brown; Assistant Director: Ashley Botting
Performed by Nadine Djoury, Stacey McGunnigle, Sharjil Rasool, Allana Reoch, Chris Wilson, PHATT al
Who: Audiences 16 years of age and older
When: On stage Tuesdays through Saturdays
Where: The Second City Toronto Mainstage Theatre, 51 Mercer Street, Toronto, ON
Info and Tickets: secondcity.com
© Scott Sneddon, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019