THE MEME-ING OF LIFE written and performed by Craig Brown, Jan Caruana, Jason DeRosse, Nigel Downer, Stacey McGunnigle and Allison Price (Second City, 51 Mercer). Indefinite run, Wednesday-Thursday and Sunday 8 pm, Friday-Saturday 7:30 and 10 pm. $24-$29, students $15. 416-343-0011, secondcity.com. See listing. Rating: NNNN
The clever pun in Second City's The Meme-ing Of Life refers to words or ideas that manage to achieve a life of their own. I can see some of the best bits from this show turning into memes, at least among comedy connoisseurs.
The revue is one of the best-acted and -staged in recent memory. Chalk that up to director Kerry Griffin, whose last outing, Dreams Really Do Come True! (And Other Lies), was equally memorable, and a cast that includes three new mainstage performers who bring a lot to the mix.
Improv, mime, satire - this troupe can do it all. Two of the best sketches are nearly wordless. In one, newcomers Craig Brown and Allison Price play subway passengers squaring off over her hogging a seat for her knapsack. The other features Brown and Nigel Downer as dudes trying to one-up each other shooting hoops. Matthew Reid's imaginative, playful sound design enriches each beat of each scene.
For social satire, there's a killer sketch about guns in classrooms featuring a harried principal (Price) trying to rein in her gun-happy staff (Jan Caruana, Brown and Jason DeRosse). And for dark laughs it's hard to beat one about three cheerleaders (Caruana, Price and Stacey McGunnigle) chanting about "legitimate rape" and abortion. The timing on this one - the cheerleaders even say their dialogue in unison - is impeccable.
A sketch about a couple's (Caruana and DeRosse) encounter with a humourless U.S. border guard (Downer) is destined for classic status. The physicality gets the big laughs, but look how carefully the characters are delineated.
Speaking of physicality, I've seen dozens of parodies of dance club pickups before, but it's hard to top this one, which takes body language to a whole other level.
Not everything works, mind you. I could have done without a long, stalled sketch about a dysfunctional family car trip.
But even the less successful scenes feature solid performances. McGunnigle deserves the comedy equivalent of a Dora for her turn as a teenage boy who acts out because he thinks his mom's boyfriend (DeRosse) might be leaving them.
And Caruana adds lots of texture to her scenes, whether she's playing a woman who wants to get pregnant but discovers she's got only one egg left, or a mother trying to snap her catatonic son (Brown) out of a YouTube-induced coma by finding him reading material.
What makes this show worthy of repeat visits, however, is the troupe's facility with improv. The first act closes with a hysterical parody of telenovelas that will keep one audience member on his toes.
And a repeated bit - a meme, if you will - about how generosity can make a difference pays off at the end with a self-righteous, improvised musical number that manages to simultaneously put its point across and send up liberal do-goodism.
Because it's improvised, the stakes are high - but so are the rewards and potential for big laughs.