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The Power of Suggestion

Toronto's Bad Dog Theater takes a different approach to improv performance fodder and direction

Pad Set, an improv show seen at the Bad Dog Theater in Toronto June 19, relies a lot on pop culture and proves adept at mining it for improv scenes. I’d say they score 30 to 40 percent of the time out of about 10 full scenes performed – not that this is a knock on the group, because that is hard to achieve.

The group got the audience fully involved, filling a whole whiteboard (hence the title of the show) with suggestions in categories including historical events, places and notable people. With a director mixing and matching the suggestions, the large cast, of 10 or more, hit some high notes with a few scenes, namely 9/11 played out as a Woody Allen movie, with a complaining Woody and date trapped under rubble – this was the best executed sketch of the night (with Sandy Jobin-Bevans doing a stellar impression on the fly). Also deserving high marks was a piece where players took on the roles of Martin and Charlie Sheen in a fictional take on their personas, and the pairing of ersatz John Lennon and Vladmir Lenin characters as a performing duo.

Still funny, although plagued by misfires, was another piece placing Janis Joplin in the middle of the Trojan War, and another piece placing Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in Ethiopia. The performers who took on these roles seemed a bit stranded and also missed what their colleagues said at key points, muffing some scenes within the pieces, although they did laugh this off and recover with the audience still on their side.

Certainly the cast seen in the night’s Pad Set is very talented and can play in the same league as Toronto’s Second City theater. And together another show seen at the theater June 19, “Hip Waiters,” it’s evident that Bad Dog Theater has a high-quality company of players all around.

“Hip Waiters,” is a mix of improvisation within a sketch show format, something of a novel hybrid. Direction is called out by Ralph MacLeod from his seat in the front row to players in the six member group, who are working with an outline written by MacLeod and cast member Heather Nassler.

The best two subplots concerned a waitress played by Janet Davidson and her antagonist, played by Rachel Hahn, a diner in the restaurant who turns out to have a past history of tormenting Janet’s character, and now wants her help, inexplicably; and the other was a pair of Star Trek fans who were looking for love. A close second was Jenny Serwylo’s tour de force stalking Kris Bowman into the men’s bathroom at the restaurant no less.

The case went back and forth between their multiple plots, and it appears the show is a serial soap opera, with changing and progressing plots from week to week on Fridays in June (returning June 25). The lone criticism of this show is that it did run a little long in time, by its end over-extending some of the lesser story arcs and even drawing out some of the better ones unnecessarily. A little shortening, or knowing when to fade to black and tie it all up would enhance the punch of this show.




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