Death Ray

Thursday Theatre Review: Death Ray Cabaret

Way back in the primordial soup of my youth, I was the host of a student television show. The experience taught me one important lesson: creating an hour of quality comedy is the hardest thing on earth. Sure, you can have one or two funny bits. But a consistently funny show? That's like climbing a mountain backwards while dragging a fridge full of rocks.

Standing in stark contrast to this principle is Toronto's own Death Ray Cabaret. Playing every Saturday in April at the Bad Dog Theatre, DRC does something amazing: they perform 60 minutes of solid comedy, and make it look pretty easy.

There are a few reasons for Death Ray's success. First, the writing is good. The dialogue is tight and focused, and the bits are genuinely original. With tragic games of Marco Polo, "The World's Worst Crank Call" and the terrifying secret behind 80s TV theme songs, the material is both fresh and absurd. You're not always in hysterics, but the show keeps you chuckling along. And when DRC goes for a big gag, the payoff is huge.

All the writing in the world won't save a sketch comedy troupe that can't put the product across. Lucky for us, the three principle performers- Kevin Matviw, Alastair Forbes and Brad Sayeau- deliver the goods in spades. They're not only very funny as individuals, but they also combine into a kind zen-voodoo onstage balance. Each brings something different to the performance, and Matviw's leading man bravura, Sayeau's brooding deadpan and Forbes' inspired goofiness complement each other in surprising and hilarious ways.

I've seen DRC a few times, and while they were always good, they were never quite this good. The improvement can be credited to TO comedy veteran Carmine Lucarelli, who now directs the show. Having another set of eyes, and ones with as impressive a pedigree as Lucarelli's, has taken a solid show and made it even more sharp. DRC always had the raw materials, but the addition of a dedicated director has added some much-needed gloss.

But the biggest reason why DRC puts on such a solid comedy show? They understand the theatrical nature of live performance. They use the entire space, and DRC takes full advantage of live theatre's dialogic structure. The audience isn't just watching the show; they are part of the show. We feel like we're in the middle of something, not just spectators. Many comedy troupes (such as last Saturday's lukewarm opening act) just perform live versions of what are basically TV sketches. Invariably, these efforts come off as flat and, well, a little boring. But DRC manages to perform in three big, high-energy dimensions. The result is difficult to resist.

So, if you want to witness the rare spectacle of consistently funny sketch comedy, check out Death Ray Cabaret. Their month long run at the Bad Dog Theatre continues on April 19th and 26th at 10PM. Tickets are $10. For more info, go here.

Photo: Alastair Forbes and Kevin Matviw. In suspenders.

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