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Armaget-It-On

Directed by Steven Morel

Created and performed by

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Matt Baram, Paul Constable,

Jennifer Goodhue, Sandy

Jobin-Bevans, Jamillah Ross

and Naomi Snieckus

At the Second City Mainstage

in Toronto

There's a moment early on in Armaget-It-On, the new Second City review in Toronto, when you instantly know you're in very good and very sure directorial hands. It's a scene in which Sandy Jobin-Bevans, a devout Christian, buys a birthday present for his Jewish roommate (Matt Baram) -- a one-way ticket to Israel.

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Baram is stunned by the gift, not by its generosity but by the audacious assumption that because he's Jewish, he must want to live In Israel. In fact, he's so stunned that he lapses into something you don't often see in sketch comedy, a very long moment of silence.

It's rare because most directors tend to think that stage moments are always better filled than unfilled. One-liners, repartee, physical comedy -- it doesn't really matter what you fill with, as long as you ward off the plague of dead air.

But Steve Morel, a veteran Second City trouper here making his directorial debut, knows that dead air, in context, can actually be pretty funny. It certainly is here.

Not laughed-till-my-ribs-were-sore funny, but smart funny. And it's precisely that kind of smart sensibility that characterizes this latest Second City outing.

Of course, there are plenty of zingers, including what I thought was the funniest line of the night. In the same scene, Baram is trying to explain to Jobin-Bevans why Israel isn't the dream of every Jew. "I'm not really Jewish." he protests. "I'm Jew-ish."

Tony Robins, Osama bin Laden, road rage, the National Post, workplace equity, the recent blackout, Simon and Garfunkel, American militarism -- these are among the targets of Armaget-It-On's satire.

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Of course, it's easy to win laughs with clever references to current events. It's much tougher to get the laughs and be smart as the same time.

For example, there's a lovely Second World War scene in which a couple of Canadian soldiers under attack complain about America -- how they always seem to be johnnies-come-lately to war, always riding on the backs of Canadians. A third member of the unit dreams of living in peace-loving America, only to get shot in the back by a late-coming platoon of marines.

Morel follows that with a song in which Baram pretends to apologize to Americans for everything wrong with Canada -- that we play the best hockey and our beer doesn't "taste like piss." This song, incidentally, is a keeper and could get radio play.

In fact, many of the evening's best moments are delivered in song -- duet of Jennifer Goodhue (as Paul Simon ) and Baram (as Art Garfunkel) that brilliantly mixes lyrics from every hit they ever had and lampoons them all.

Goodhue, Baram and Paul Constable anchor the cast, but Jobin-Bevans continues to expand his range and the work of two main-stage newcomers -- Jamillah Ross and Naomi Snieckus -- is more than promising.

Opening night was marred by the occasional misstep of timing -- performers delivering a line before the audience was finished laughing -- and a couple sketches seemed to end with punch lines that were something less than punchy. But it has been a while since a Second City evening has been so smartly scripted and since the six performers have played with such confidence. Armaget-It-On definitely gets it on.

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Armaget-In-On is playing at Second City's Main Stage in Toronto for an indefinite run (416-343-0011).

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