insanity faiR written and performed by Aurora Browne, David Nathan Shore, Jennifer Goodhue, Paul Constable, Carolyn Taylor and Pat Kelly, with additional writing by Matt Watts, directed by Michael Kennard. Presented by Second City (56 Blue Jays Way). Previews to November 4, opens November 5 and runs indefinitely, Monday to Friday 8 pm, Saturday 8 and 10:30 pm. $19-$25. 416-343-0011.
Up the street from the sky dome at 56 blue jays way, there's as much power-brokering, injury and play-by-play analysis as in any other major league.But Second City, the boys' club comedy institution that launched the careers of guys like Mike Myers, John Candy and Colin Mochrie, has finally levelled its playing field.
For the first time in its decades-long history, the balance of power has shifted from the men to the women. Not only is there gender equity in the mainstage cast -- three and three -- but the women now have seniority.
Granted, plenty of funny women have stepped up to the plate before. (See sidebar.)
But clearly, the game has changed.
"This is all because of the women who have come before us," says Jennifer Goodhue, who like most Second City players worked her way up to the mainstage from the national touring company.
"Those women, like Janet Van De Graaff and Teresa Pavlinek, worked really hard to create good stuff. If you have a good female scene and it makes the touring company show, women get to perform it, and if we shine, we get to put it on the mainstage. Without those scenes we wouldn't be here. We'd be playing the secretary answering the phone in some guy scene."
We're sitting backstage in the Second City dressing room -- the same place where, a couple of years ago, current cast member Carolyn Taylor took down the divider that separated the men's booths from the women's. It was a symbolic act, one that said, "Hey, we've seen it before, and we're no different from you."
Things have obviously changed. During previews of her first mainstage show, Aurora Browne remembers hiding out under her booth, crying and silently grasping Taylor's hand for support.
Taylor recalls being the newest person in a cast with one other woman (Lisa Brooke) and four guys.
"They were very sure about what they liked and what their thing was," she says. "They were all great people, but it was hard in that dynamic. It was literally sink or swim."
Now the three women -- who get stronger with each show -- occasionally hold Saturday-night between-show "estro chats," where they lay out mats, eat sushi, discuss their moms and do one another's toenails while the guys watch TV in another room.
Steven Morel, Second City's creative director, realizes that men and women act differently when creating sketch comedy and improv. Men are used to fighting for their ideas, women aren't. Women are more likely to want to make others look good.
"We approach the work differently," agrees Taylor, a Carol Burnett-like mainstay who specializes in slightly off-kilter characters. "Our sensibility is different. I don't necessarily want to fight for ideas. Now we're in a position where we've gained this experience, so we can look at a premise and know it's going to work."
It helps to have women-positive guys like Morel around. He's married to Second City alumna Jenny Parsons. Or Chris Earle, who's married to SC director/teacher Shari Hollett and who directed the cast in Psychedelicatessen, one of their strongest revues ever. Or Mike Kennard, who's directing the current show, Insanity Fair, now in previews.
A few years ago, before previews for the revue Family Circus Maximus, Kennard held one-on-ones with the cast to see how they were feeling.
"All the women were saying things like, "I don't know if I belong here,'" laughs Browne, who's probably got the best acting chops of the trio. "And all the guys went, "Things are just fine.'"
That's not to suggest that it's all Divine Secrets Of The Ha-Ha Sisterhood. Male cast members have helped a lot.
"I remember Paul Bates telling me to be unapologetic about what you do onstage, and Doug Morency told me not to be in any scene I didn't want to be in," says Taylor. "Those were good lessons. Look out for yourself or you'll suffer night after night for the run of the show."
In Femilac, one of Psychedelicatessen's classic sketches, Browne played a Mexican mom feeding her new baby with formula provided by a multinational, much to ace physical comic Goodhue's chagrin. Bates, who was dating a nurse at the time, contributed lots to the discussion around the sketch and ended up playing a man who still hadn't been weaned off his mother's milk.
"You've got to trust someone if they're sucking on your breast," says Taylor.
Watching the current cast in pre-rehearsal mode is telling. Paul Constable and David Nathan Shore seem like lone wolves, self-contained. New guy Pat Kelly has assumed the role of the joker. But the women are busy in an unobtrusive way chatting up each other, writer Matt Watts and musical director Bob Derkach. Smart.
By its very nature, a comedy revue like the Second City is always in flux. Cast members are here for a few shows, then leave to do other stuff. The chemistry changes.
This estro-friendly moment might be a blip, but it's reflected south of the border in the current Saturday Night Live cast, once practically a woman-free zone, and locally in comedy troupes like the GTOs, the Atomic Fireballs and young sketch troupe the Young and the Useless, composed of three women in their mid-teens who are SC addicts.
"It's symbiotic," says Browne. "We're here because there is a comedy scene with great women."
"We've stuck it out," sighs Taylor. "I know I won't be here forever. This is just a moment in our careers. But for right now I'm working with people, men and women, that I like and trust."