population 282 at the Tim Sims Playhouse (56 Blue Jays Way), Tuesdays at 9 pm. $7.94. 416-343-0011. Rating: NN
if improv is the high-wire act of the comedy world, then last Tuesday (February 12) the floor of the Tim Sims Playhouse was littered with a half-dozen bloody, mangled bodies. That's how it went at the brutal opening of Population 282, the newish ongoing improv show set in a small northern Ontario town.
I say "newish" because the team responsible for the show -- director Steven Morel and a cast that includes A-list improvisers Lisa Merchant, Doug Morency and Janet Van De Graaff -- have been previewing it for a couple of months. You'd think they'd have a firm enough grip on the show's themes and characters to provoke a few laughs.
The purpose seems to be to send up small-town clichés, from gossip, isolation and hospitality to the inevitable appearance of a drifter with a past.
But the main problem on opening night was a lack of character development. The outlines are there in the town doctor (Jack Mosshammer), the gas jockey (Morency), the slut (Merchant) and the holier-than-thou matriarch (Van De Graaff), but few of the performers have come up with enough details to run with the shtick.
Merchant hides behind a bad wig and a tray of baked goods instead of offering up a character, while Van De Graaff repeats the same phrases over and over again, unable to vary her blustering mom routine.
The more centred Mosshammer has the energy for this kind of show, and he's got an impressive vocabulary, but the others don't play off him.
Only Albert Howell, as a trying-hard-to-be-hip priest (notice the cool shoes and the creative Bible exegesis), rolls with the improv punches. Guest Colin Mochrie, playing the drifter, came through in the final moments to barely salvage the show.
Musical director Jim Clayton plays the piano aimlessly. Instead of underscoring situations, he seems as confused as the rest of email@example.com