Duo’s act is sketchy

an awkward evening with martin & johnson with Melody Johnson, Bob Martin and Jack Mosshammer, directed by Sandy Balcovske. Presented.


an awkward evening with martin & johnson with Melody Johnson, Bob Martin and Jack Mosshammer, directed by Sandy Balcovske. Presented by Second City Theatricals at the Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Runs to September 28, Thursday 8 pm, Friday-Saturday 8 and 10 pm. $18, stu/srs $15. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN

an awkward evening with martin & Johnson has moments of whimsy and humour, but in the end its jokey title ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. The series of sketches and songs is meant to be an old-fashioned throwback to the comedic stylings of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, long before those two had met, respectively, Diane Sawyer or the script for Ishtar.

Outfitted in classic early-60s getup — cocktail dress, suit with thin tie, a cardigan — writer/performers Bob Martin and Melody Johnson do look and sound like they’re from another era. Martin, in fact, could be Danny Kaye’s brother.

Maybe the two Second City alumni think comedy was more sophisticated (read: less crude) back then, but what they offer us isn’t a convincing argument.

The show begins well, with a sketch about a couple on a blind date going to see The Vagina Monologues. It’s a cute worlds-apart bit, drawing on Martin’s peppy quality and Johnson’s talent for expressing barely contained frustration. More laughs come when the scene is revisited, with a twist, in the show’s second half.

A sketch set in a shoe store also succeeds, mostly because the characters have been thought out. Johnson’s mousy customer eyes a pair of Manolo Blahniks, and a back story about her sister adds weight and texture to her words and actions.

The duo come closest to the Nichols and May style in a sketch that could be on the radio about a couple about to make out who decide to play their favourite songs for each other. It’s cute — the whole damned show is cute — but you can see the laughs coming a mile away. Guess that’s the price of being old-fashioned. Audiences are more restless now.

What becomes evident in a show like this, loosely directed by Sandy Balcovske (she helmed the second, and weakest, version of The Drowsy Chaperone), are the performers’ tics and mannerisms. Martin relies on straitlaced bafflement and mini-explosions of subversion, while Johnson flips on the falsetto little-girl voice a few too many times.

A third performer, the fine comic actor Jack Mosshammer, doesn’t have much to do — his ongoing between-scenes gag gets tired fast — but he does get to add support to the work’s most famous sketch, which closes out the show.

A whimsical look at what it would be like to do The Glass Menagerie as written by David Mamet, this import from a former Second City revue still succeeds, although it feels lightweight in the Tarragon Extra Space.

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