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Second City ho, ho, hopes for a happy holiday

Stacey McGunnigle and Craig Brown in "The Second City's Dysfunctional Holiday Revue."

The Second City

3 out of 4 stars

I find it kind of funny and I find it kind of sad that the song Mad World was the British Christmas No. 1 single in 2003. It's musically poignant, but its lyrics are decidedly Donnie Darko-depressing.

A piano motif from the song pops up more than once during The Second City's Dysfunctional Holiday Revue, a lighthearted look at December distress. Knowing that not everyone's holly is jolly, the national touring branch of the Second City troupe finds merriment in the madness, mirth in the Christmas mire.

Oh, now, let's be clear. The six-member cast isn't exactly roasting a reindeer on a spit down on Mercer Street. The production is actually upbeat – a sparky satire on the flipside of fa-la-la. For example, the Mad World melody is used splendidly in a slow-motion and strikingly violent snowball fight. And the show's main theme song – the effervescent one that opens and closes the affair – is actually optimistic, all about things hopefully being different this year.

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A brave face, then, in the season full of cheer, sometimes genuine but often fake. Like the parents whose daughter took off with her fiancé to see her future in-laws in Hawaii instead of visiting them. A zippy scene has ma and pa heroically and hilariously videotaping a yuletide greeting.

Some don't even bother faking it. Take troupe member Kevin Matviw: His suicidal crooner – the rattiest of retired Rat Packers – would rather sing about razor blades during this, the calendar's supposed most wonderful time of the year. The off-putting, sweater-wearing character is Saturday Night Live-worthy.

Christmas is colourful – maybe too colourful. "Halloween threw up into December" is how it's described in a sketch about holiday ritual. And isn't it funny how we'll laugh at the "broom of justice," but think nothing, as Second City points out, of placing our children on the laps of fake-bearded alcoholics at the department store.

Are carollers one slammed door away from going zombie? There's something not quite right with those snowy singers. Mull that over with your cider.

And who hasn't felt the pressure of charity? A woman is shamed relentlessly into sponsoring a child, even though she just lost her job and can't afford the far-away dependent. But think of "little Jaheeb." A giraffe stepped on his mother's neck, his father's elbows unfortunately bend backward, he has to fight off monkeys for his breakfast and he lets grown men punch him for rupees!

Give until it hurts. Mistletoe the line. Deck the halls, but not your relatives or co-workers. It's a mad world, this month more than ever. The Second City's Dysfunctional Holiday Revue isn't up to the level of the company's current mainstage production, Dreams Really Do Come True! (and other lies), but it's a tradition worth keeping – a respite from the season's forced good cheer.

The Second City's Dysfunctional Holiday Revue runs until Jan. 2.

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The Second City's Dysfunctional Holiday Revue

  • Written and performed by The Second City’s National Touring Company: Craig Brown, Kevin Matviw, Stacey McGunnigle, Alice Moran, Allison Price and Connor Thompson
  • Directed by Kerry Griffin
  • At Second City in Toronto

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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