Review by Mille Clarkes
I must admit, I'm a little intimidated by the assignment to write a review of a Sketch-22 production. How does one approach a critique of an act of absurd imagination? How can one write an assessment of the external representation of the inside of someone’s mind? Sure, every work of art (let us agree that a Sketch-22 show is a work of art) is invariably someone’s mental stirrings spilled forth into view. But it is hard to imagine a work of art with less filters, less paranoia, than a Sketch-22 show. It’s almost innocent, and thus innocent of reviewing. However…
The Sketch-22 Christmas Show 2007 was no exception—there before the audience with unabashed verve, Charlottetown’s crown jewel of comedy let it all hang out. This mad revelry must not be confused with untempered silliness. Sketch-22’s skits are finely tuned, often brilliantly conceived, and deftly executed. There is measure to the madness; just enough to keep it all flowing, but not too much so as to limit or restrict.
Most of the 2007 Christmas show’s material was recycled from the previous season, so my impressions are just a tad stale, and perhaps the performances suffered minutely from the age of the skits. Minutely. Overall the show is right on par with the best sketch comedies of our age, and I say this entirely seriously; Mr. Show, Kids in the Hall—you have a new soldier in your ranks.
A Sketch-22 Christmas takes its audience on an interpretive journey through the nativity story. The opening act sees the entire troupe (save Jason Rogerson who is occupied with sweetly portraying the Virgin Mary) dressed as giant sperm, each vying for a go at the virgin womb as they sing fresh lyrics to the tune of ‘Who are You?’ by The Who. The nativity story acts as the base line to the show’s narrative. Scattered throughout are other brilliant one-off acts such as a condensed fast-paced version of It’s a Wonderful Life, an audition for the part of Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas featuring none other than the Grim Reaper himself, and a slew of other “how the hell did they come up with that?” sketches.
Each of the cast members shine in their own strengths, but the show stealer may have been Jason Rogerson, whose understated presence on stage manages to hit the mark every time through subtlety and an almost visceral modesty; you can tell that he has dissolved his ego for the greater good of the whole. And he makes a charming Virgin Mary. Dennis Trainor kept the audience in a state somewhere between hysteria and perpetual squirming with his character Patrick Duncan Irving St.Clair, the overly-theatrical stage director. Dennis is fast and energetic and never hesitates for a moment in his roles. Graham Putnam brings such a deep sense of bemusement to every character that you can’t help but wonder if he's having more fun than everyone else, and perhaps it’s he who’s laughing at you, not the other way around. Rob MacDonald is the papa-bear of the bunch, and his forays into ambiguous sexuality are portrayed with an endearing gentleness. Andrew Sprague is strong in his roles which are often of the straight-man variety, providing a counterweight to the otherwise tightly-wound cast. The quiet, strong force behind the spectacle is Gislane O’Hanely who stage manages a seamless production. Harmony Wagner was missed amongst the cast. Her energy completes the circle and hopefully she will return for future shows.
The video segways between skits were entirely amusing, but lacked a little of the genius seen in other Sketch 22 productions, mainly because they were not as closely tied to the action on stage. It would be great to see slightly boosted production quality on the videos, though the content is there.
Seriously folks, what is it going to take to get the rest of the world to notice these guys? ’Cause once they do we’ve lost them for good.