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article imageReview: Second City’s latest is big on physical humour, short on politics Special

By Jeff Cottrill     Mar 21, 2019 in Entertainment
Toronto - Second City’s “Walking on Bombshells” immediately grabs your attention with its bold set: a realistic replica of the subway walls at Osgoode Station. Not only is it familiar, it also pumps you up to expect some savage satire of the TTC.
And the comedy institution’s latest Toronto revue does get a few great digs at the city’s famously unreliable transit system. The sharpest cut comes when a PHATT al character, arriving late to meet a friend, says that riders have to “allow an hour to get somewhere ten minutes away.” Fellow cast member Stacey McGunnigle has a funny song early on about a gross subway seat – “Is it warm, or is it wet?” – and there’s a sad, amusing scene near the end in which delayed riders talk about a jumper. That’s mostly it, though, and you can’t help sensing some missed potential on the TTC theme, at least for local audience members seeking catharsis after a few too many short turns.
But no need to worry. Walking on Bombshells, which opened on Tuesday, has plenty to recommend it. Taking the reins again is Chris Earle, a longtime Second City veteran as a performer and director, and he puts the spotlight largely on physical comedy this time. A highlight of the second half is a scene with McGunnigle and Chris Wilson as two T.O. bikers on a date, miming a long cycling trip back to his pad (complete with rude gestures at careless drivers), set to Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”. Another bit, which runs a little too long, showcases Wilson’s slapstick skills as a depressed guy crashing at the home of a couple (Sharjil Rasool, Nadine Djoury) after a breakup – and struggling endlessly to get comfortable on their love seat with an undersized blanket.
McGunnigle gets another big moment as a supremely drunk single woman who returns home from her own birthday outing and frantically takes out her drunken insecurities on Rasool, as a Pizza Pizza delivery man. (“A company whose product is so bad,” he quips, “they have to say it twice just so you know it’s pizza.”) Another fun physical scene – though arguably mistimed after the recent Ethiopian Airlines crash – has the full cast enacting an Air Canada plane ride with violent turbulence, literally shaking the passengers out of their seats, while Djoury’s flight attendant repeats long lists of snacks and drinks in English and French.
Djoury, who has been superb in every Second City revue I’ve seen her in, particularly shines as a character who slips on ice on Spadina Avenue and tries to maintain her dignity by screaming, “Don’t look at me!” at passersby. She and Allana Reoch share a perversely touching scene in a sauna where their characters prop up each other’s egos about their odd-looking vaginas (one described as “a deployed air bag with hair”). And Reoch puts her baby face to great use in a recurring bit in which she plays a shy child whose pushy father keeps pressuring her to say “lemon chicken” at a fast-food order counter.
Unlike many past revues, this one is short on overt political satire; maybe it feels redundant to mock Donald Trump, Doug Ford and Brexit when they’re already so good at accidentally mocking themselves. Improv content is oddly lacking as well; the few audience-suggestion moments seem tacked on, as if the cast is just checking it off a list. Inadvertent racism and body shaming are occasional targets, as is modern technology (al plays a computer user whose Siri-type program knows way too much about him and his past, delivering it in a creepy female HAL 9000 tone).
One of the most poignant sketches tackles the recent legalization of recreational marijuana: al is a man in prison for a pot offence, singing a Bob Marley-esque tune about watching the rest of the country get stoned without consequence. It’s a point that needs to be made, even comically. Another cutting scene has Rasool and Djoury wearing fake moustaches as a Muslim and Jewish father lamenting that their children are dating each other – complaining “Culturally, they’re so different!” while adopting the exact same tone and gestures.
Less successful is a repetitive bit with Rasool bragging to his friends, “I bought a condo!” as well as a song by Wilson about how he’s going to hit a high note at the end; Second City has done self-referential musical gags better before. But the cast unexpectedly turns the focus on the audience by spoofing the “many different types of laughs” they hear during shows. You can call it punching down if you want, but it’s harder to make people laugh at themselves than at others, and it works.
Walking on Bombshells isn’t Second City at its peak, but it’s a rich, fast-paced revue with many good ideas and something to make everyone laugh. If you’re taking the TTC to the venue, don’t forget to allow plenty of extra time.
Walking on Bombshells is running for an extended engagement at the Second City Mainstage in Toronto.
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