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The cast of Second City Toronto’s 87th Mainstage Revue, Skyline’s the Limit.Second City

  • Title: Skyline’s the Limit
  • Created by and starring: PHATT al, Andy Assaf, Andy Hull, Nkasi Ogbonnah, Hannah Spear and Jillian Welsh
  • Director: Kirsten Rasmussen
  • Company: Second City Toronto
  • City: Toronto, Ont.
  • Year: Booking to Aug. 27, 2023

Critic’s Pick

I’m 100-per-cent YIMBY about Skyline’s the Limit, the first Second City mainstage revue to be created and premiere in the long-running troupe’s new Toronto comedy complex located in a downtown condo tower.

Indeed, this is a development everyone in the city can get behind: A collection of sketches with the highest rate of hit versus miss in the company’s recent history.

Second City Toronto’s current six-person cast hadn’t quite gelled into a cohesive comedic ensemble in previous outings. But it has now transformed into a truly formidable one. The secret sauce must either be the inspiring new views of Lake Ontario, or the skilled direction of Second City all-star Kristen Rasmussen.

Skyline’s the Limit’s title seems to speak to the paradox of today’s Toronto – a city in which construction is everywhere you look and yet housing is hard to find.

Designer Camellia Koo’s cartoony set sees shard-like condo buildings coming at the cast from every angle – and many of the scenes involve characters struggling with human connection despite being constantly surrounded by humanity.

Indeed, the first sketch sees six tower-dwelling Torontonians – PHATT al, Andy Assaf, Andy Hull, Nkasi Ogbonnah, Hannah Spear and Jillian Welsh, playing versions of themselves – trapped in an elevator and forced to properly meet one another for the first time. This is a clever way to introduce the actors to the audience, and endear the former to the latter ahead of the absurd antics to follow.

After a couple short smilers, Skyline’s the Limit finds a rollicking rhythm it then rarely leaves with a scene about a man (Hull) stumbling upon his old family computer (played by a glitchy Assaf) in his mom’s basement.

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The Second City Toronto cast members, from the left, PHATT al, Jillian Welsh and Hannah Spear in a scene in Skyline’s the Limit.Second City

This is a hilarious walk down random-access memory lane with its early-oughts references to cereal-box give-away DVD-ROMS and vile viral videos best forgotten. But what elevates the sketch beyond nostalgia is the emotion downloaded into the dusty old Dell desktop in Assaf’s performance: He feels betrayed, abandoned and resentful, and yet still hungers for a relationship with the fellow whose coming-of-age is chronicled in his search history.

The two Andys are shortly thereafter both involved in an even stronger sketch that starts with a young boy (Assaf) coming home from school with a question: “What’s toxic masculinity?”

His father and mother – played by Hull and Spear – are ruffled by this, but quickly come up with competent and clear age-appropriate answer.

It’s the boy’s follow-up question – “What’s just masculinity?” – that truly flusters them: The two start spitting out gender-identity stereotypes and countering them in a complete and utter panic.

What a clever comedic angle on subject matter that stand-ups in streaming specials seem to only tackle in an attempt to prove how right-on or unrestrained they are. (It’s also a reminder that good parenting, like good comedy, requires sharp improvisation skills.)

The mom in that sketch is the first of many female characters Spears plays who are trying to stay calm and in control, but whose faces and bodies betray their anxieties and emotions in extreme fashion. She’s a terrific physical comedian and particularly excels in her depictions of unhinged horniness – aimed, in one brave bit here, at municipal police budgets.

In the previous mainstage revue, Spears was singled out as a stand-out – she was even nominated for a Dora Award – but this time around the whole troupe’s talents are too well blended and balanced to use that language.

From a formal point of view, it is admirable how elegantly and inventively Skyline’s the Limit incorporated its improvised elements to avoid forced “Can I get a …” moments. Audience participation, as well, is elicited in a sly way that allows more than the loudest and most uninhibited voices to be heard.

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Andy Hull and Welsh play brewsky-popping podcast hosts in plaid named Barry and Terry in a nod to Second City history.Second City

At one point, in a welcome nod to Second City history, Hull and Welsh play a pair of brewsky-popping podcast hosts in plaid named Barry and Terry (clearly descendants of Bob and Doug) who talk to people about their professions.

Their on-stage interview with a chiropractor in attendance on opening night (“the xylophone of doctors,” Welsh quipped) was a lesson in the school of comedy in which audience members are seen as interesting in their own right – first articulated by legendary Loose Moose co-founder Keith Johnstone.

Indeed, many of Johnstone’s improv aphorisms – fresh in my mind from his recent obituaries – rang in my mind as I was watching this company of comedians do their thing: “Go onto the stage to make relationships. At least you won’t be alone” and “Please don’t do your best. Trying to do your best is trying to be better than you are.”

How great to find the spirit of the best of Canadian comedy past infused with fresh new flavours in this revue that properly inaugurates Second City Toronto’s happy new home.

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