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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Second City Delivers The Laughs In ‘Safer, Shorter & Still So Funny’

By Paula Citron on September 25, 2020

L-R: Chris Wilson, Andrew Bushell, Natalie Metcalfe, Tricia Black, Nkasi Ogbonnah (Photo: James Elksnitis)
Second City L-R: Chris Wilson, Andrew Bushell, Natalie Metcalfe, Tricia Black, Nkasi Ogbonnah (Photo: James Elksnitis)

The Second City Toronto/Safer, Shorter & Still So Funny, written and performed by Tricia Black, Andrew Bushell, Natalie Metcalfe, Nkasi Ogbonnah, Hannah Spear, and Chris Wilson, directed by Ashley Botting, The Second City Comedy Club, indefinite run. Tickets available here

Awhile back, Ludwig van Toronto published the results of a survey about how readers felt about returning to a live performance. There were two companion pieces. My colleague, Joseph So wrote that only a vaccine would bring him inside a theatre or concert hall, while I stated that if performers were willing to be on stage, I would be in the audience — which is how I ended up at The Second City for the live and in-person show Safer, Shorter & Still So Funny. I felt honour bound. I had declared myself publicly in print, and so I had to back up my words.

First of all, whatever the relative merits of the show itself, it felt absolutely euphoric to be inside a theatre again with fellow audience members, watching actors strut their stuff. There is something absolutely magical about the shared theatre experience. You can’t define it, but it exists. You could also feel a buzz in the air. It was clear that the audience was excited. They had come to be entertained.

I was super cautious, not only wearing the mandatory mask, but also sporting a face shield. Even before entering the space, there was a guy outside the front door asking the usual questions. Have you travelled outside the country? Do you have any symptoms? The tables were spaced quite far apart to accommodate the complement of fifty patrons. Food and drink were being served, so most of the audience had their masks off while they ate and drank, but apparently, we were separated by eight feet, which was more than the mandatory six. I felt more than safe. As well, there was no intermission, so there was a minimum of movement among the audience and wait staff.

As for the cast, they did not observe social distancing on stage, but then, they formed their own bubble. Their temperatures were taken when they arrived at the theatre, and when they were off-stage, that is, not in a skit, they wore masks. Usually Second City casts share one dressing room, but the backstage area had been cleared out to create several new dressing rooms. As well, they had all been tested for COVID-19. What I’m trying to say here is that both the audience and cast were being made to feel as comfortable as possible.

As for the show, the first part was made up of improvisation games with audience input, so every performance is different. The second part featured sketch ideas which, we were told, had been written collectively on Zoom. These comedy skits will, presumably, form the basis of a new Second City show. And my verdict about Safer, Shorter & Still So Funny in general, is that it was an amusing evening. The cast was talented and full of energy, which the audience was eager to feed.

My one cavil is that the roles were not evenly dispersed. Natalie Metcalfe, Chris Wilson and Andrew Bushell dominated the show, but as accomplished as these actors are, I would have liked to see more of Tricia Black who is a very droll performer, and Nkasi Ogbonnah who brings a very strong presence to the stage. Unfortunately, Hannah Spear needed to project more because I missed some of her words due to her soft voice.

My favourite improvisation was what I call the Post-it Game. The audience shouted out favourite dialogue from movies and television shows, and famous song lyrics, which were written down on Post-it notes and stuck on the stage backdrop. The two cast members who had been sent out of the theatre (with masks on), were called back in. They proceeded to act out a scene, and where possible, threw into the dialogue what was written on a Post-it that they grabbed off the wall. It was very funny.

One improv I was not familiar with involved the audience calling out their favourite podcast, in this case, My Favourite Murder. One cast member accessed the podcast on his phone and with the aid of earphones, could only speak dialogue he was hearing on the podcast. The other actor was free-speaking, and the mishmash of dialogue was very comical, causing frequent changes of direction as the free-speaker tried to incorporate the podcast contributions.

I also enjoyed Sex With Me. The audience was asked to name something you would find in your kitchen, for example, a blender, then each of the six had to come up with a clever line beginning: “Sex with me is like a blender because….” Other Sex With Me lines involved something found in a washroom, and a location (Kitchen Stuff Plus). Some of the one-liners were hilarious.

The sketch comedy items were kernels of ideas and so were in their beginning stages, but showed promise. For me, the most successful was the couple who did role-playing before sex. All the guy wanted to do was jump into bed, but the wife kept wanting more role-playing to get more into the mood, like a customs agent and passenger at the airport, and the classic doctor/patient. This sketch was performed by Ogbonnah, who is Black, and Wilson who is White, and the best role-play segment was where she played White, and he played Black.

I should mention that improv music is a big part of any Second City show, and kudos to Ayaka Kinugawa for her adept accompaniment, as well as Mark Andrada for his pinpoint light cues.

Now at this show, the cast did not introduce themselves to the audience, and I trust that was an oversight. When it didn’t happen at the beginning, I assumed it would happen at the end, and when it did not, I felt cheated. The cast should not be nameless. They need that connection with the audience.

At the start of the show, Metcalfe said that they wanted to bring a little joy into our lives, and they certainly did that. Thank you Second City for bringing live and in-person theatre back to town. It has been a real loss without it.

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Paula Citron

Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.
Paula Citron
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Paula Citron

Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.
Paula Citron
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