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- Title: Chaos Menu: Disorder Up!
- Created by and starring: PHATT al, Andy Assaf, Coko Galore, Devon Henderson, Liz Johnston and Ron Pederson
- Director: Darryl Hinds
- Company: Second City Toronto
- City: Toronto
- Year: Booking to Jan. 30, 2024
The new revue by Toronto’s Second City troupe is Chaos Menu: Disorder Up!, self-billed as a show that makes light of life’s everyday absurdities. A safe description, it likely applies to most if not all of the company’s 88 revues since 1973.
Some of Chaos Menu’s best moments happened when the audience participated and cast members improvised – off menu, as it were. Funnyman PHATT al in particular interacted well.
Prompted with Canada’s westernmost province, he came up with “weed” while rhyming British Columbia with “you get dumbia.” About Seattle, he improvised “your brains are addled.” Not surprisingly, he is a Juno-nominated rapper.
PHATT al is perhaps so-named in reference to Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert. Can we no longer say “fat”? He is also Black. Can we say that? Apparently not, according to a sketch in which white characters silently mouthed the word instead of saying it aloud: “It’s how all the women in my family pronounce it,” one of them explained.
Societal decorum was lampooned more than once in the crisp, entertaining two-hour show. The opening sketch about the workplace was awash with oversensitivity and the new-age lingo that accompanies it: “Speak my truth” and “triggered” and “internalize negative energy” and “words are acts of violence.” As a company imploded around them, a pair of female employees enforced personal boundaries with tedious politeness.
Elsewhere, modern music was criticized for its political incorrectness. That pop tunes were kinder and gentler in the old days was the suggestion. But it wasn’t, as Ron Pederson demonstrated with a jaunty, old-timey 1920s tune that included the lyric “just don’t give woman the vote.”
There was not a lot of physical humour, the exception being PHATT al’s bald eagle impersonation. Using the eagle’s protected status to its advantage, the creature was sneakily rude. The uproarious sketch raised questions about the etymology of the phrase “flipping the bird.”
With Chaos Menu, Second City alumnus Darryl Hinds makes his directorial debut with the company. He makes a case for a steady, relaxed flow of comedy rather than the loud, brisk and flashy aesthetic that often mark the revues.
There were blouse-based laughs and bra humour: “We’re all on a boob journey,” cracked a female cast member. A nonsensical sketch about a “late, late, late-night podcast” in which time zones were discussed had me checking my watch.
Among the highlight performances was Liz Johnston as the ill-suited fill-in piano player at a snobby French restaurant. When the owner demanded something classic, she provided Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets instead of Chopin. When a man proposes marriage to his tablemate, the theme from The Exorcist is the response. In refusing to conform to expectations, the irreverent pianist hit all the right notes.
In another bit, the outrageousness of socially pressured tipping and charitable donations at the cash register was raised. When did 30 per cent become the new 15 per cent, anyway? Second City does a great public service, asking the questions that might be considered gauche in a today’s touchy society.
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)