armaget-it-on! written and performed by Paul Constable, Sandy Jobin-Bevans, Jennifer Goodhue, Matt Baram, Jamillah Ross and Naomi Snieckus, directed by Steven Morel. Produced by Second City (56 Blue Jays Way). Indefinite run, Monday-Friday 8 pm, Saturday 8 and 10:30 pm. $21-$28, stu $13-$18. 416-343-0011. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Armaget-it-on! is one of the most uneven Second City mainstage shows in years. Don't get me wrong. There's lots to enjoy in this 54th revue, which takes its funky, That 70s Show title from all the apocalyptic precursors plaguing us these past few months: SARS, blackouts, mad cow... Pick your headline.
But I haven't seen such comic highs and long-drawn-out, unfunny lows in some time.
Among the highs are the mock taping of a terrorist message from Osama bin Laden (a bearded Matt Baram ), who's told by the spot's director ( Paul Constable ) to stop muffing his lines and become more frightening or viewers will watch Law & Order reruns.
The sketch succeeds because it sends up our worst fears while satirizing our seen-it-all, media-saturated smugness.
Jennifer Goodhue walks away with a couple of the show's best scenes, including her ethereal Enya-meets-Loreena neo-Medieval songstress babe who finds herself in a singles bar singing about a "one-stand knight." The writing is as inspired as the delivery and look of the piece.
Goodhue also shows up in the second half as Paul Simon to Baram's Art Garfunkle as they plan a comeback tour - how's that for timing? - via a Mamma Mia! style musical pieced together from their songs. This one's destined for classic status.
An extended second-half sequence about the "victims of the blackouts" hosted by a painfully earnest Ben Mulroney ( Sandy Jobin-Bevans ) milks the banality of the non-event hilariously, but doesn't make up for a meandering earlier sketch about two lovers (Jobin-Bevans and Naomi Snieckus ) set during the actual blackouts.
Like this last sketch, too many sequences feel as if they've been improvised on the spot. The laughs are impressionistic, not organic. There's no shape. A sketch about Canadian soldiers during the second world war hits the same joke continuously. And two callback pieces - one about a woman who buys a wearable Mexican child knapsack, the other about Christian and Jewish roommates - fail to pay off as they should.
Some sequences - a neighbourhood truth or dare bit, an office gossip scene - feel stale as soon as they've begun, and a sketch about what animals do when their masters leave is so long it feels like it's told in dog years.
Goodhue and Baram have the best moments, leaving newcomers Snieckus and Jamillah Ross to rely on their wild-eyed mugging and soulful singing voice, respectively. Constable has less to do than ever before - an indication he's about to leave, perhaps?
Unlike Second City's last show, there's no broadcast media send-up, a lack that might explain why there aren't any references to SARS or mad cow. The absence is palpable.
Couldn't some of the best comic minds in the city, directed by alumnus Steven Morel , have come up with at least one zinger about either of these international events?