Review: The Shoeless Comedy Troupe

by Jenna Rocca

The Shoeless Comedy Troupe offer up unadulterated improv-style humour in the rich Toronto Tradition of SCTV and the Kids in the Hall.  Effective and elegant incorporation of drag, musical numbers, dance and other dalliances are hung before us like paper stars.  The troupe, mostly products of the Second City Training conservatory, is well-versed in mime, accents, and other arts, and there are no props if it can be avoided.

The show runs about two hours and is a really tight arrangement of varied and well-performed original material. In some prop-based pieces, costumes are used to great effect, as when the cast takes the form of a flower garden that is slowly massacred by ruthless fairytale-like, nose-kissing lovebirds.

However, in most of the sketches the costumes are more like neutral uniforms are and settings such as a record store, a restaurant, creepy parents’ Scrabble game, and a  car are evoked only by the content and performances.  And in still others, the men sing in harmony to demonstrate the new state of the provincial sales taxes.

In the cramped but cosy Bread and Circus theatre in Kensington drinks from the bar are allowed in the theatre. I find this appropriate, not only for this specific venue but for all comedy.

At this particular performance I found it brought the audience closer to the performers. They often emerge from the entrance, with the house lights used to incorporate the audience space into the performance, for example, when we are situated suddenly as tourists atop a Toronto Sightseeing bus.

One woman could not contain herself during one sketch, and the performers gracefully incorporated the situation into the material, which concerned a hesitant bride preparing to walk down the aisle at the side of her father: “how much has mom had to drink today?” “Oh, not more than usual,” which was met with further mirth.

But it’s not all bawdy humour. One tender and climactic piece unravels as we gradually learn of the Swiss Chalet-set romance of an elderly couple.  Ned Petrie and Jamie Murray play the couple sincerely, without too many nuances. Murray in drag is transformed only by a housecoat and single bobby pin into a modest old lady who is too absorbed in her book to give in to her lover’s advances on their monthly “special night.”

The comedy in such pieces unspools naturally, and is clearly the product of long sessions of improvisation and re-writes, however the timing and performances were so engaged and fresh that for all I know this could all have been conceived and executed, as is the best improv comedy, right then and there.

This was the first full-revue show the Shoeless Troupe has put on, but check their site for upcoming appearances and performances.  I would have liked to see this revue put on at least a few more times as it only showed three times this past weekend at the Bread and Circus Theatre.