The Second City Toronto presents a sequel to its first all-female sketch comedy show
She the People: The Resistance Continues, is The Second City’s sequel to its first all-female revue, featuring the same cast of Kirsten Rasmussen, Ann Pornel, Ashley Comeau, Karen Parker, Paloma Nuñez and Tricia Black, but with all-new material. Putting issues of sexism and misogyny front and centre, this is a highly political show that also deals with a host of current social problems. It’s sharp and incisive, and funny as hell.
Many of the best characters and sketches have something in common – they’re coming unhinged at the utter incompetence and willful ignorance of the general public. A doctor who needs her own protective wall against parents who don’t believe in vaccination, and a game show host asking us questions about the world around us to which we really should know the answers both wonderfully show the barely-contained frustration twitching away under the professional veneer.
This is comedy based in a deeper rage and anguish, which is what makes it meaningful as well as hilarious. In that vein, a sketch with a teacher bonding with a supremely lonely and socially awkward student who is trying to find out information about the teacher’s personal life, and one featuring an out-of-work divorced mother whose emotions spill over when she buys her unappreciative child a birthday present were two of my favourites, marrying the humour with a deep, yawning sadness that gives it depth and poignancy. They also reinforce a theme of the show: the gendered trauma the world hands down is generational, and while some things get better, some things don’t.
Part of the reason the show’s politics are so satisfying is that it’s mostly preaching to the choir, but there are also plenty of moments of trope subversion, such as three cheerleaders who present a perfectly synchronized squad of brainwashed patriarchal messaging to the horror of their male coach, or a classic feminist rant about male judgment over women’s clothing made much better because the woman in question dons an outfit that’s more creature feature than club wear.
The meaningful content doesn’t mean that the show is heavy – far from it. Even the heavy concepts feel light. In fact, the show delights in this juxtaposition of tone, such as a sketch where a bachelorette party’s crude sexual wordplay over male strippers contrasts with their serious real-world personas, and another where a drill sergeant helps her charges navigate the fraught world of trying to go out for a fun night without becoming a victim of violence.
The entire cast gives spot-on performances, from Nuñez’s angry doctor to Rasmussen’s supremely ungainly high school student, to Parker’s wall-pounding mother, Black’s incredulous cheerleading coach and Comeau’s spacey new-age guru. As a mechanic who gives different genders different sales pitches, Pornel gestures wildly and wonderfully when mimicking questionably-existing auto parts in states of working and disrepair. There’s also some very entertaining singing, including a sketch that marries childbirth with musical theatre, and an ode to the weirdness of assigning sexual identity to infants and calling it cute.
With a premise that could easily swing toward the obvious or didactic, it’s impressive that nearly all the sketches land effectively. There are almost no dead spots; very occasionally, a moment will go too broad or cliché (dancing politicians; the VR “female experience”), but overall, everything feels very fresh.
In the end, the troupe looks to the ups and down of the future for the upcoming generation of women, in a song that tells us that we can surely do better than this. While I certainly agree with that in a political sense, I’m not sure the show itself has all that much room for improvement. It’s pretty perfect just the way it is.
- She the People plays at the Second City Mainstage Theatre (51 Mercer St) until September 15, 2019.
- Show times are Fridays at 10:00pm, Saturdays at 4:00pm and 7:30pm, and Sundays at 4pm
- Tickets are $27 with dinner and show packages at $57, and can be purchased online or be calling 416-343-0011. Student prices and group discounts are available, see website for details.
Photo of Kirsten Rasmussen, Ann Pornel, Ashley Comeau, Karen Parker, Paloma Nuñez and Tricia Black by Paul Aihoshi.