Improvised Shakespeare, with audience input, took Toronto’s Second City stage in Slings and Errors
Slings and Errors (playing the Second City) is improvised Shakespeare — an idea with some pedigree, but which hasn’t yet reached a wide audience. And this company, drawn from all over the place — Second City improvisers, stand-up comedians, Canadian Comedy Award-winning sketch artists — make a game attempt to bring it home.
There are laughs. In fact, there are lots and lots and lots of spill-your-drink laughs. But while this cast is talented and this concept is promising, I found that opening night had a few format kinks holding the project back.
But first, let’s be gentle. The musical accompaniment is outstanding, and musical director Mark Bond is a fantastic addition to the company. The company have also made the wise decision not to try funny accents or iambic pentameter, freeing them from a structure which would have limited their range and distracted from the comedy. And the cast themselves are talented: prologue Carmen Lucarelli is a standout as a character who is absolutely game for anything, as is Second City vet Nigel Downer, who has clearly put a lot of thought into overthinking — but each of them succeed in their own way and play to their own strengths.
This, however, creates problems of its own. The characters often feel like they inhabit different plays entirely, and quite often bump into each other in ways which undermine the action: one of the thorniest improv problems is that quick rat-a-tat gags can get easy laughs, but can’t sustain a scene, and this company seems to have a problem with cutting each other off and derailing story progression in the service of low-hanging fruit.
And, as a result, I found that a number of scenes tended to drag. Too many characters entered without having any particular notion of why they were there, and when half the cast has gone deer-in-headlights just a line or two deep into a scene, there’s just not much left TO salvage.
What this company needs is more time to play together, learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and to cheat — just a little. There’s no shame in setting up a few plot points and stock characters beforehand, just to give you something to build off and prevent those “Well, I’m on stage, so I guess I should be doing something…” situations. There’s something special and unique here, and I wasn’t lying when I said this cast is talented: as individuals, they are.
With a little more polish, we could really be getting somewhere.
But as it stands, at $10 for a ticket, you really can’t go wrong, eh? It’s still plenty funny and entertaining — if you aren’t disamenable to glossing over a few bumps along the way.
- Slings and Arrows played Second City (51 Mercer Street) on March 29th, 2014.