The Second City’s sketch on a woman’s right to choose deserves classic status
BY GLENN SUMI glenns@ nowtoronto. com · @ glennsumi
What a difference a couple of weeks make. Now that the United States Supreme Court has struck down Roe v. Wade, Jillian Welsh’s brilliant song from the POV of an unborn fetus hits differently than it did on opening night. “You don’t have to have me,” she sings in a sweet voice, sensibly laying out all of her reasons. The tune is incredibly catchy, but the content is even stronger. I wouldn’t be surprised if the song elicits ovations now. It even has the potential to be taken up and performed by the Second City’s sister companies in the U. S. Directed by terrific alumna Ashley Botting, the new revue – aptly titled Mission Totally Possible – features a mainstage cast in which the women ( Welsh, Ngasi Obgonnah and Hannah Spear) have seniority over the men. That might explain the prevalence of firstrate female- forward sketches like this. In another, the actors play women at a church bake sale who have learned how to get rid of shame about their sexuality and celebrate it. In one of the show’s funniest sequences, set in a law firm’s kitchen, one woman ( Spear) watches another ( Welsh) bravely peel a hard- boiled egg, which sets off an aria of self- criticism as she compares herself to the egg- peeler. ( The way it’s revisited in the second act sends up the idea of women’s self- confidence even further.) And if you’ve ever worn a sports bra, you’ll relate to a sketch the women revisit several times in the show – each time with bigger laughs. Not that the men are slouches. This is one of the most balanced revues I’ve seen from the company. Pretty much everyone gets a chance to shine. In an early monologue, Andy Hull plays a beer- drinking, backwards- baseball- cap- wearing guy from Parry Sound who runs into former high school friends at a reunion. In a few minutes, he creates a portrait of a small- town type who has grown up ( government job, kids) but is still a sweet hoser at heart. It’s poignant and truthful, and, like many scenes in the show, beautifully underscored by new music director David William Macintosh. Hull stands out in another sketch in which he plays a wedding singer who still resents something the groom ( Andy Assaf) did when they were in college. And Assaf in turn is a blast as a guy reluctantly visiting a therapist for the first time and dealing with his toxic masculinity. Many sketches have as much heart as they do laughs. That’s certainly the case in a scene involving a Black woman ( Ogbonnah) coming home late from a date and dealing with her judgemental granny ( PHATT al, making a triumphant mainstage return after a few years away). Both characters have strong points of view, and the ending feels earned and poignant. Not every scene works. The post- opening song sketch about children who want their parents to get a divorce doesn’t quite belong in that prominent spot. And a sketch in which Spear and PHATT al reflect on something they recently did gets by on energy, great physicality and lively performances, but it could also be cut. Still, this is one of the best directed and produced revues I’ve seen. Besides Macintosh’s score, the costumes and wigs do a lot of work at establishing and furthering scenes. An improvised sketch in which Welsh plays Martin Scorsese (!) directing two actors in a scene, with genre and subject suggested by the audience, goes to some amusing places. A coming out sequence, in which Welsh is disowned by her parents then meets Spear is wonderful – their entire life together compressed into a silent film- like sequence. And the company has finally integrated livestreaming into its show, with a sketch that goes to some scarily fun places. But considering what’s going on in the world right now, you’ll be talking about that reproductive rights sketch as you leave the theatre.