The Howland Company‘s Entrances and Exits, currently playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, has a simple premise. Act one takes place in a living room, and involves characters coming in and out of doors at random intervals. Act two flips the scene to the other side of the door, and in classic farce style, lets the audience in on what’s been happening in the other room during the first act. The twist? It’s entirely improvised by the cast.
The nature of Mooney on Theatre’s extensive festival coverage is that we’re covering a couple previews, which was the case with Entrances and Exits tonight. At tonight’s performance, the audience was asked to pick an occasion for a party to happen–someone yelled out “Ben’s birthday”–and three sound effects (chainsaw, fireworks, orgasm were picked). Then the show unfolded into a tight, consistently funny romp that felt impressively structured for being entirely — well, unstructured.
The story that unfolded at our showing involved two affairs, a chainsaw hidden in a closet, a nanny to a 16-year-old boy, and a birthday party that never really got around to celebrating Ben very much (because Ben was busy being an asshole about things instead, to quote the show).
Much of this is due to the cast of comedians, who are as follows: Ghazal Azarbad (Soulpepper Theatre), Nigel Downer (The Second City Mainstage), Dylan Evans (Soulpepper Theatre), Ruth Goodwin (The Howland Company), Liz Johnston (Bad Dog Theatre), and Connor Low (Bad Dog Theatre). Conor Bradbury (Sex T-Rex) was sadly absent on preview night, but is listed as a regular cast member moving forward.
This is a solid-as-hell cast, with not a weak link among them. In particular, Liz Johnston developed a hysterical 40-something breadwinner character whose wry quips were quick and punchy throughout. Ruth Goodwin, meanwhile, has a hilarious way of rambling her way into unexpected wit that built a strong character along the way.
Nigel Downer made the most of the door with some of the funniest actual entrance/exit lines, while Ghazal Azarbad pulled out one of the best gags of the night with a marijuana pot as a birthday present (this was the joke that kept on giving to the other castmembers, too).
Dylan Evans, whose role was confined to the second act, pulled an emotional monologue out of his hat that was both hilarious and impressively good at wrapping up the main stakes of the plot as they were developing (“I’m just a sixteen year old boy who loves wearing dresses and is in love with his nanny”). Connor Low, who served more of a host role by manning the sound effects and music cues, nevertheless got some big laughs out of his small roles setting up the rules of the show to the audience throughout.
So here’s the bottom line. This has everything a good improv show ought to have: a fabulous cast and a great concept to give structure to the show you’re about to see (even if only loosely). I left the theatre with an itch to return, just to see what else this cast could do with this concept; I think that’s the highest compliment I can think to give to any improv show.
- Entrances and Exits plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: Mature language; Sexual content; Audience participation.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Thursday July 5th, 8:45 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 11:00 pm
- Monday July 9th, 5:00 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 1:45 pm
- Friday July 13th, 7:30 pm
- Saturday July 14th, 9:15 pm
- Sunday July 15th, 12:00 pm
Photo of Liz Johnston & Ruth Goodwin by Connor Low