Improv hits, misses
Last year's Toronto International Improv Festival was marred by the blackout, but this year's - which wrapped up Sunday - had no shortage of bright lights.
D&J , a two-person outfit from Chicago, succeeded with high energy and verbal dexterity in their series of scenes set in and around city hall. Like a Quentin Tarantino character, Jason Anfinsen created a bailiff with an attitude problem who prevented a woman ( Dori Goldman ) from entering the courtroom. Later she played a woman on death row to his overweight prison warden, and then the two played maverick lawyers. First-rate.
D&J saved an otherwise dreary and uninspired program that included Chicago's mumble-prone Attencion! and Hamilton's smug and unimaginative Slurred Vision .
Tonto's Nephews , consisting of five local native comics, stood their ground in scenes told in three randomly chosen genres. They employed plenty of old-fashioned shtick and Monty Pythonesque shenanigans, but there were serious logic problems throughout (not to mention some major stumbling in their attempts at mock Shakespeare). Only troupe member Herbie Barnes seemed to be enjoying himself and gave his all by raising the stakes and continually offering fresh ideas.
Mark Sutton and Stacey Hallal joined forces for Sutton & Hallal , a series of three scenes inspired by a randomly chosen song, but their selection, a ballad by Johnny Cash , proved hard to understand, so the scenes lost their edge.
Chicago's Storybox have an intriguing way of storytelling that draws initially on all the performers' input, then develops into a long-form play, but their rambling, precious and not-very-funny playlet about a colour-blind painter and an evil professor never came together. Good to see former local laughmeister Nick Johne back in town, though.
New York's Adrianne Frost shone in two shows we caught, Frost & Ronen - with her husband Asaf Ronen - and Cherry Bomb , with Karen Herr .
Frost & Ronen's was one of the few improv shows that touched the heart as well as the funny bone. Sitting mostly on a battered old couch, the pair argued, complained and acted silly, all the while gradually revealing a back story about illness. Hemingway meets Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Toronto's Slap Happy introduced a new form called Troubadour, pulling together various narrative strands that included chess, war, surfing, Baffin Island and - in the show's biggest laugh - a man trying to pick up a tree. The troupe make it look easy, and were funniest when they pointed out the silliness of their own inventions.
Chicago's Pat Shay Dancers are equally good. The large ensemble created several well-rounded scenes full of wit, momentum and subtext. But they seemed to rely mostly on one-on-one rather than group scenes and found difficulty ending their show.
A few annoyances. The fest's two theatres were too far apart, making it hard to shuttle between the two. The cold acoustics at the Alumnae aren't kind to comedy (neither was the guy in the sound booth who kept talking or playing his radio during shows).
And where were the audiences? Sure, a few shows sold out, but comedy this good deserves a bigger crowd.
A huge crowd waited impatiently outside the Distillery fermenting room, then waited inside yet again to pick up or buy tickets for the Grande Scale Event , one of the signature performances of the revitalized fFIDA International Dance Festival . Feet got tired watching the overlong spectacle, which stretched the limits of dance, and our patience. Questionable sightlines, people clinging to their chairs like lifeboats and some technical difficulties (a skipping CD) aside, the event lived up to its name.