Stage Door Review

The Best Is Yet To Come Undone

Apr 10, 2018

✭✭✭✭✩

by Nadine Djoury, Brandon Hackett, Stacey McGunnigle, Sharjil Rasool, Allana Reoch & Chris Wilson, directed by Carly Heffernan

The Second City, 51 Mercer Street, Toronto

April 9, 2018-booking to January 31, 2019

“I know my worth!”

The Best Is Yet To Come Undone is one of the best Second City shows in years. It’s a case where the balance is just right between sketches blazing from issues that have come to the fore in the past few months with sketches of pure fantasy and general comedy. In balancing the specific and universal, the expert Second City troupe not only has the chance to display its incisive satirical bite but also its gentler comedic touch. In doing so the troupe leaves you amazed with the range and depth of its talent.

The show begins with an absurdist metatheatrical show opener where the cast literally sings that “This is the opening number of the show”. But, lest we think that the show will remain in that mode, the very first sketch is a great satire of the issue of consent in sexual relationships taken to its reductio ad absurdum. A young man (Chris Wilson) and young woman (Stacey McGunnigle) arrive at the woman’s apartment. The hyper-conscientious man makes absolutely certain that he has the woman’s consent to enter her apartment before he does so. He then seeks her further consent to come in farther and then actually to sit down. For her part, she seeks his consent to sit down also, in fact in his lap, and so on both negotiating every move they make until an unexpected conclusion.

This sketch sets the tone for all the issues-based sketches that follow emphasizing that relationships between men and women and between people of different races have become more difficult because we are more aware now of male privilege and assumptions of cultural dominance. Immediately following the consent sketch, an enraged young woman (Allana Reoch) enters shouting “I know my worth!” as she flings her hair about her face. It turns out she is addressing a young guy in the audience (Wilson), who can neither leave her nor return to her without getting the same response, suggesting that there is no move Wilson can make that will be deemed “correct”.

Tensions between races receive quite varied treatment. In one sketch a white guy (Wilson) passes a seated Brandon Hackett and mistakes him for Denzel Washington. This causes Hackett to launch into a song with clever examples about the racism behind people thinking all people of the same race look the same. In another sketch an older male coach of a St. Catharines sports team (McGunnigle in a nod toward gender-blind casting) calls in Indian-Canadian Sharjil Rasool for a heart-to-heart talk. It’s come to his attention that people will think the mascot Rasool has played for years, Cabbie Raji, is no longer appropriate. Rasool doesn’t want to leave, but understands the situation, and the two recall fondly all the times Cabbie Raji worked up the crowd in clichéd acts like raising their arms as if they were writhing snakes while Raji played the flute.

Perhaps the best of the race-based sketches is one where Rasool and Hackett are rehearsing a basketball scene and Hackett is suddenly called away. Wilson is thrust in to replace him. As he discovers to his embarrassment the dialogue for Hackett is so specific to a black speaker that the conscientious Wilson can barely bring himself to speak it. When he offers to switch places with Rasool, he finds Rasool’s dialogue is too Indian-specific to speak comfortably. The sketch doesn’t solve Wilson’s predicament, but serves as an explicit condemnation of casting white people as people of colour, with such examples noted as Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger (2013) or Scarlett Johansson as Major in The Ghost in the Shell (2017).

On the reverse side of the argument, Hackett gives a TED talk about how minorities, like gays, are not only underrepresented in films but their presence is often not even acknowledged. This allows Hackett to present an hilarious illustrated lecture about how Luke Skywalker is really gay. Having established this point, Hackett’s lecture proceeds to undermine it when he says that he can prove, via his truly impressive knowledge of films, that anyone the audience can name is gay.

Interleaved with these sketches about current hot button topics, including a devastating two-minute skit about school shootings, are more general comic sketches that ground the show in subjects that would be funny no matter what the political climate. Balancing the fraught male-female relationships of the satirical sketches is one in which a young woman (Nadine Djoury) is flipping through Tinder for prospective dates and stops to fantasize about one guy (Wilson) in particular. The two then enact through mime alone the couple’s life from going on their first date to marriage, vacationing and having a baby. The sketch ends with a verbal joke, but up to that point Djoury and Wilson have demonstrated just how enjoyable and funny pure mime can be.

In another sketch a young woman (Reoch) tells us that when she had any difficult problems she felt she could always turn to her dad for advice. She then chooses a guy from the audience to play her dad and then informs him that her dad is dead. At least on opening night, the young man playing the dad was especially comforting leading this to be a sequence more about tenderness between men and women than comedy. It is great that the troupe allows some skits to end in a sympathetic “Aw” rather that always trying for raucous laughter.

The women in the show don’t let themselves off the satirical hook. In one sketch a young woman (McGunnigle) encounters an actively snacking 12-year-old girl (Reoch) while waiting outside a Weight Watchers clinic. The woman naturally wants to know why a young girl should be going to Weight Watchers and finds out that the girl’s mother has projected her obsession about being thin onto her daughter. To the young woman’s embarrassment she finds that she has adopted the same mental state herself and the sketch ends not with a joke but with each character asking the other when she will be able to accept her body as it is.

A much nastier scenario finds three wealthy would-be sophisticates (Djoury, McGunnigle and Reoch) trading stories about how shopping therapy has helped them. These are the kind of people who believe that products labelled “artisanal” must be superior. The satire comes when these obviously over-privileged First World women have to answer questions sent in from their listeners in Third World countries and they give them the most outrageously insensitive advice.

In the realm of the purest comedy are two sketches where cast members play inanimate objects. In an absolutely charming one, Rasool plays a singing crosswalk button who is proud of what he does yet wishes sometimes that he could know where the people who press him are going and what they are doing. In the other McGunnigle boots up her PC for the day and finds that he (Wilson) is being especially uncooperative. Yet, his leading her on and shoving advertisements in her face that she doesn’t want is nothing compared to her printer (Reoch) who just downright refuses to print. There can’t be a person in the audience who won’t relate to the idea that the tech we use often seems to have a mind of its own.

The cast for The Best Is Yet To Come Undone is so well chosen that it is hard to single out anyone for special praise. They are meant to be a tight ensemble and they work as a tight ensemble. Chris Wilson, making his Second City debut, is already well-known to Torontonians from his Fringe Festival appearances as part of the duo of Peter n’ Chris (e.g., see Peter n’ Chris and the Kinda OK Corral). The one peculiarity of the show is that Wilson does seem to appear in far more sketches than anyone else almost as if in the role of a guest star. Despite that, he never touts his own personality at the expense of the others.

The Best Is Yet To Come Undone is a very satisfying show, but don’t go expecting any references to the current US president. So many satire-worthy events happen in DC per day that daily or weekly news satires are the best medium to handle such matters. This Second City show is intended to run for months and thus has to choose topics that will be valid over a long period of time. The creators have chosen extremely well for this show which I expect will enjoy a long, successful run. It’s the kind of Second City show you’ll definitely want to see more than once. If, somehow, you’ve never been to Second City, this show would make a great introduction to one of the premier fixtures of the Toronto entertainment scene.

Christopher Hoile

Note: This review is a Stage Door exclusive

Photo: (from top) Stacey McGunnigle, Nadine Djoury, Sharjil Rasool, Chris Wilson, Allana Reoch and Brandon Hackett; Brandon Hackett, Nadine Djoury, Sharjil Rasool; Nadine Djoury, Allana Reoch and Stacey McGunnigle. © 2018 The Second City.

For tickets, visit www.secondcity.com.