Sketch Fest Picks: Part 2

17 Mar

The second half of the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival provided yet another smorgasbord of memorable performances. Here is round two of our festival roundup, with a couple of honourable mentions!

Sadly, Sketch Fest wrapped up last night, but there’s always a chance you’ll be able to catch some of these troupes in the ‘Best of the Fest’ show coming up this spring (details and participants TBA).

marquee-winter-beach-show-637x329The Winter Beach Show

Comprised of players from other notable sketch troupes like Peter ‘n Chris, Sex T-Rex, and Picnicface, the Winter Beach Show is akin to the Traveling Wilburys of Canadian sketch. This concentrated blend of talent puts on a great show, with simple but expertly executed sketches like one in which an obnoxious actor/soldier pleads to his commander for time off from the Vietnam war so he can be in a community stage production of Tartuffe. Other highlights include a tender love scene between two astronauts via radio chatter, and a frantic sketch with more layers than Inception about an inept time traveler attempting to save the world.

marquee-2-man-no-show-637x3292-Man No-Show

2-Man No-Show was almost literally a no-show when two days before their scheduled performance, Isaac Kessler (who is one half of the troupe – the other half being Ken Hall), accidentally skewered his foot with a sewing needle. Despite being dependent on crutches and under the influence of Tylenol 3s, Kessler nevertheless took to the stage where he and Hall delivered a truly memorable improv set. Admittedly, it was just as much the “will he or won’t he?” factor that comes with watching an otherwise adept physical performer battle through pain and adversity as it was the content or narrative of the set that made it memorable. Hall upped the ante – and the entertainment value – by challenging Kessler with gentle touches of Schadenfreude; moving much-needed chairs out of Kessler’s reach and goading him on with lines like “I’m off to the squash court. Care to join me?”. Kudos to you gentlemen for making some delicious proverbial lemonade.

marquee-national-theatre-of-the-world-637x329The National Theatre of the World

Real life couple Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus charm with a self-effacing and chemistry-laden set. This class-act duo focus base much of their material on relationship issues, with many of their quiet scenes having a vaguely Woody Allen-eqsue quality to them. With two static microphones allowing them to banter at intimate vocal levels and giving their hysterical overlapping dialogue the spotlight, their performance is admirably bereft of the limb flailing or purposeless yelling that lesser troupes resort to. Their interplay, which is simultaneously caring and adversarial, is a perfect example of art imitating life (or vice versa).

vest-of-friendsVest of Friends

This young troupe get better every year and thankfully are starting to get the notice they deserve. Their material is as strong as any troupe at the festival, but what sets them apart is their casual but high-energy style. Nary a moment of their set goes by without one of the four members chiming in with an off-hand comment or blink-and-you’ll-miss-it joke. They have a true knack for making their prepared dialogue feel like seemingly spontaneous back and forth, and their wacky but tactful vocalizations give life to their characters.

Honourable Mentions:

The Connie Chungs delivered a decent set, but their closing sketch about H.P. Lovecraft hitting the club and attempting to woo women using cliche pickup lines with macabre twists was too good not to give special mention to here.

Death Ray Cabaret showcased the quirky writing talent of solo artist Kevin Matviw (who enlisted the help of an ensemble of performers to bring his sketches to life for his festival slot). A multi-part sketch about peer pressure was probably the best example of call-back humour in the festival, and a song sung by an innocent snowflake was ironic existentialism at its best.

Hot Thespian Action, the veteran and audience pleasing troupe from Winnipeg delivered a solid set – the highlight of which was a fantastical tale of a woman transported into her own neglected purse. This reviewer will never again be able to look at an abandoned tampon the same way again.

Parker and Seville have abandoned their vaudeville schtick in favour of a brand of sketch that lies somewhere between comedy and performance art. While some of their bits elicit more head scratching than laughs, others (especially those employing their oft used “heard but not seen” approach to characters) are riotously funny. If only real football press conferences were as wonderful and surreal as the one that they enacted.


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