BIRD FLU OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST written and performed by Jim Annan, Lauren Ash, Matt Baram, Scott Montgomery, Anand Rajaram and Naomi Snieckus, directed by Chris Earle (Second City, 51 Mercer). Limited run. See Comedy Listings, this page. $20-$28. 416-343-0011. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It might be hard to live up to the comic lunacy suggested by the title Bird Flu Over The Cuckoo's Nest . But the Second City comes close, capturing solid laughs amidst a sense of hysteria, even if all their material isn't of the same high quality.
Enjoying the fact that bad news makes for good comedy, the six-member troupe opens with a brief musical number summing up just how crazy the world has become.
This theme is nicely taken up by the first sketch, a howler about two strangers ( Naomi Snieckus and Matt Baram ) who use their anxiety about world problems - war, bird flu, global warming - to seize the day and make out like there's no tomorrow.
It's followed by an equally strong sketch that pits a family doctor ( Anand Rajaram ) against a vegetarian woman ( Lauren Ash ) who's feeling fatigued. What begins as a simple doctor/patient session morphs into an insult fest where the doctor stands for conservative traditional values and the patient a more alternative style of living. The stereotype putdowns are so funny because we've all felt them but seldom say them.
The prevalence of cellphone and instant messaging technology is a recurring theme, especially in the vague repeated image of the ensemble hypnotized by their phones. It finds its best outlet in a sketch about a mother (Snieckus) who decides to pretend to be her teenage son during an IM session.
This bravura sketch continually surprises, and that's doubtless the work of director Chris Earle , a master at raising the stakes and maintaining momentum. A scene in the second half about a telemarketer keeps paying off because we never know what targets it will hit next.
While the show doesn't contain any of the duds of SC's last show - I'm thinking here of the silly gecko sketches - not everything is gold. A foot-in-mouth cab-ride scene between an employee ( Scott Montgomery ) and an executive (Ash) goes on a bit too long, and a bachelor-party skit makes its points about metrosexuals and changing gender roles a bit too broadly.
A scene about Bush and Harper, though rambling, pays off at the end.
The cast is as good as it gets. Ash, in her second revue, displays astonishing confidence, and Montgomery and Jim Annan two highly underrated local performers already seem like veterans.
Meanwhile, new musical director Matthew Reid helps add texture and oomph to several scenes with some well-placed notes.