THE SECOND CITY RELOADED written and performed by Lauren Ash, Matt Baram, Paul Bates, Derek Flores, Anand Rajaram and Naomi Snieckus, directed by Mick Napier. Presented by Second City (51 Mercer). Limited run, Tuesday-Sunday 8 pm, late night Saturday 10:30 pm. $20-$28. 416-343-0011. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
First, the really good news. the Second City 's new home, housed at the back of Wayne Gretzky's , is a way more intimate venue for comedy than the United Nations lecture hall that passed as a theatre where they performed before. The space, complete with balcony, feels warm and relaxed. Imagine the old Tim Sims Playhouse quadrupled and given a designer makeover.
Not all the sightlines are terrific (there's not much of a rake in the audience), and the acoustics aren't the best. Order a drink or whisper to your neighbour and expect people two tables away to hear you. Outside noises actually sound amplified.
On the other hand, when the audience is laughing, the sound swells up. And there's lots of opportunity to laugh at their new show, The Second City Reloaded .
Which brings us to the good news. The rejigged cast (two new members, one who's returning after a three-year absence) is fresh and energetic. So is their material, although at the final preview performance I saw, a few head-scratching repeated bits were screaming to be deleted and the sketch order seemed unbalanced.
The show's overarching themes are anger and fear. Paul Bates , as nimble and youthful as ever after leaving the Mainstage in 2002, captures the anger in one brilliant sketch about a cranky man who spends all his time writing e-mails to corporations that piss him off: Telus Mobility, Rogers Cable, McD's - no one is spared. You won't look at a veggie burger in the same way again. As a bonus, Bates - one of the city's best improvisers - calls out for audience input on whom to write to next. This is razor-sharp comedy.
Another classic sketch sees a nebbishy customer ( Matt Baram ) nervously pick up his pizza order from a worker named Ahmed ( Anand Rajaram ). All the customer's stupid prejudices and fears sputter out of his mouth, as he wonders whether Ahmed has killed the previous worker and if his tip jar money will go toward a jihad fund. The material's outrageous, and pushed further to the edge by Baram's wacky delivery and Rajaram's mounting anger.
Strangely, these two sketches are placed in the second half, along with a lovely little iPod parody about how music affects a couple's mood and a darkly funny bit, still underdeveloped, about Karla Homolka ( Lauren Ash ) interviewing a prospective roommate (Bates again, superb).
Before and after the intermission, the entire cast comes onstage to deliver a series of sarcastic thank-yous, first to Americans, then to Canadians.
Too bad there isn't stronger material in the first half, which introduces two recurring sketches that are perplexing: an Italian soap opera parody and a scene in which the sketch members come out like geckos. Silly and surreal? Yes. Funny? No. Worthy of repeat visits? Definitely not.
Judging from this show, Second City is definitely reloaded. Too bad the real funny targets are in the second half.