THIS PARTY'S A RIOT! written and performed by Rob Baker, Dale Boyer, Adam Cawley, Inessa Frantowski, Carly Heffernan and Kris Siddiqi, directed by Bruce Pirrie. Presented by Second City (51 Mercer). Limited run, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, late night Saturday 10:30 pm, Sunday 7 pm. $15-$29. 416-343-0011. See Listings. Rating: NNN
At its best, This Party's A Riot! lives up to its title.
The Second City cast powers through even the weakest sketches with energy and enthusiasm. That's not enough to make it come close to matching the smart laughs from its previous show, the record-breaking Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes, but it helps.
After a clever video about audiences using mobile phones (oh alumnus Colin Mochrie, how we love you), the show itself begins with a high-energy sequence featuring the six performers wondering what they did the night before. Sound and rhythm problems plague this scene, and there just aren't that many laughs.
Things pick up when Adam Cawley and talented newcomer Carly Heffernan play a couple addressing their wedding party guests, the rifts in their relationship showing beneath their smiling, drunken faces.
Cawley, in his fourth mainstage outing, dominates the revue with a manic recklessness that burns up the stage, whether he's the disillusioned adult son of a greedy baby boomer (Rob Baker), a Jersey Shore wannabe trying to pick up club district girls with his best pal (Kris Siddiqi), a child who can't quite figure who his parents are in a confusing world of blended families, or a husband who doesn't get what he bargains for when he and his wife (Inessa Frantowski) agree to a threesome.
I wish director Bruce Pirrie had set up a more satisfying rhythm for that boomer sketch. There's no arc to Cawley's emotional outbursts, but still he's completely watchable.
So is Kris Siddiqi, especially as a pretentious yoga instructor with unorthodox methods (not to mention a hilarious way of saying "Namaste") and a zombie who has a crush on his ex-girlfriend (Dale Boyer). (Read an interview with Siddiqi here.)
The show's unpolished writing ruins a promising sketch about how social media contributed to the Egyptian revolution. Is it really possible that in 2011, the phrase "You're all gay" is meant to get laughs? A sendup of the A&E show Hoarders goes nowhere, a bit of audience interaction adding little to the unfunny result.
And compare a sketch in which two sisters (Frantowski and Boyer) talk about shaving their private parts to the classic archival SC bit about women doing the same thing on the subway.
Another failed sketch about the suggestion box at a low-morale office would be cute if it came up during an improv session, but for this to make the cut - and to open up the second act - feels bizarre.
Speaking of improv, the show closes with an off-the-cuff scene that goes in unexpected directions. It's a huge logistical gamble for the company, but if it works, as it did partly on opening night, the payoff includes a terrific post-show buzz. You'll definitely be talking about this one on the way out.