Death Ray Cabaret, presented by the eponymous company at the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival, is a sketch comedy show created by Second City veterans Jordan Armstrong and Kevin Matviw that stages a nightly takeover of the Monarch Tavern. Though it isn’t really about death rays (or on any particular theme), it’s a very polished set of musical comedy sketches by an assured duo who know how to shoot, laser-like, right for the target.
After an opener featuring “random facts” to spice up awkward conversations, Armstrong and Matviw lead us through a snappy, whirlwind tour of short songs, even shorter songs, and “mini-scenes” of one explosive joke apiece, paired with Armstrong’s stirring piano accompaniment. The songs range from original to parody, such as a Hamilton-inspired lament about Facebook and identity, and the “Holding Out For a Hero”-based set of montages the movies won’t show you. There’s even some mild audience participation to set up a few improvised numbers, which provided some of the show’s biggest laughs via the hapless audience member involved.
Armstrong and Matviw have strong, appealing voices, and are excellent lyricists. Their rhymes and concepts are complex, crisp, and clever, and they manage to elevate even one-joke concepts by expressing them in delightful and unpredictable ways. They mix highbrow wordplay with gloriously groanworthy puns, making it look so easy that you might forget how difficult comedy is. The show also shows off their generally spot-on timing, and practiced ease working with each other; they never spend a second longer on a joke than necessary.
Highlights included a pair of passive-aggressive cowboys, the frustration of being adopted and not being able to accuse anyone specific for your genetic shortcomings, a supremely uncomfortable bikini wax on an inappropriate holiday, a library-inspired dance club hit in the making, and a song about a less-famous, moon-adjacent astronaut that’s really quite lovely — and worth the one-song rental of a guitar.
Amidst this furious wordplay, one thing I found myself missing was a more varied use of physical space; while the comedians do their best, particularly Matviw in his rendition of a personified mental monster, they’re a bit hampered by the need to stand in front of the microphones and piano.
If Death Ray Cabaret is “about” anything, it’s modern anxiety, and the lengths we go to in order to convince ourselves that everything is fine; it’s about the twisted absurdity that underlies our fears. But perhaps that’s assigning too much meaning to things; really, it’s just a solid hoot, so sit back and listen to some random, completely untrue facts.
- Death Ray Cabaret plays at the Monarch Tavern. (12 Clinton 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 (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: mature language; sexual content; audience participation; not recommended for children. A strobe light is used.
- The Fringe Festival considers this venue to be wheelchair-accessible.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Wednesday July 3rd, 6:00 pm
- Thursday July 4th, 6:00 pm
- Friday July 5th, 6:00 pm
- Saturday July 6th, 6:00 pm
- Sunday July 7th, 6:00 pm
- Monday July 8th, 6:00 pm
- Tuesday July 9th, 6:00 pm
- Wednesday July 10th, 6:00 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 6:00 pm
- Friday July 12th, 6:00 pm
- Sunday July 14th, 6:00 pm
Photo of Jordan Armstrong and Kevin Matviw by Connor Low