Second City's current mainstage revue, Dreams Really Do Come True! (and Other Lies), keeps the laughs genuine.
Second City Toronto’s mainstage revues have been on an upswing in terms of critical appeal and popularity for the last couple shows; their 2010 revue, Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes, broke box office records for the company at their Mercer Street location. That sort of success in comedy can be difficult to duplicate, especially when you’re bringing new cast members in, so it’s gratifying to see that current show Dreams Really Do Come True! (and Other Lies) succeeds as well.
The show’s strength lies with its meticulously assembled cast, and debut director Kerry Griffin’s canny reliance on them to fill the evening. Which is to say: Dreams relies less on an overarching theme, unlike revues in the past few years that drew their inspiration from current events and recognizable figures. In this show, characters spring out of dreams and fantasies. (Cast member Ashley Comeau returns briefly as a top-hatted ringmaster for a couple of brief interstitial scenes later in the show, but it’s hardly necessary; the audience accepts off the bat that they’re going to see a hodge-podge, and that they don’t really need to try to make sense of the funny.)
That funny is generated by a cast with a wide variety of comic backgrounds, which speaks to the depth of comedy talent in Toronto. Oh sure, all of the cast have done stints in the Touring Company at SC, and further back (Comeau started out busing tables at Second City and worked her way up in the ranks), but it’s more interesting to note that, besides their Second City training, they’ve all cut their comedy teeth in various different scenes in Toronto, honing improv chops at the currently homeless Bad Dog Theatre, or sketch skills with such diverse (and for the most part, still active) troupes as the Sketchersons, the Lusty Mannequins, She Said What, Mantown, and more.
Griffin and set designer Sean Mulcahy have done away with the stage-dominating staircase and upper level, trading it in for depth onstage; an arch at upstage centre allows the actors to make dramatic entrances. It’s opened up the whole stage in a major way, too, allowing for physically ambitious scenes like a baseball game that goes off the rounds on base. The old stairway would have been difficult to work around for a scene that uses most of the stage—a scene where newcomer Nigel Downer in particular displays an expressive knack for physical comedy.
Besides Downer, Forbes lends a lanky charm to many characters, including the aforementioned PM, a brainy first date, and a bitter married suburbanite; Comeau and returning cast member Carly Heffernan are both commanding presences, often “taking point” in scenes and driving the action forward. And Jason DeRosse grounds many scenes with his sincerity—either in a straightforward fashion (as a valiant veteran, for example) or with a twist as a creepy caretaker in a cemetery.
But while the show is a success as a team effort, there is an MVP, and that’s returning cast member Inessa Frantowski. (That’s not just our opinion; we overheard several people at opening, during intermission, and post-performance saying they wish they’d seen more of her.) That’s because the fearless redhead commits with abandon to her characters in sketches, whether that’s the pathetic emotional state of a newly single woman, the sly confidence of a streetwalker offering unorthodox services, or a woman with an exceedingly strange series of fantasies. While all of the players in this new revue are dreaming big enough to fill the stage (and the audience with laughter), it’s Frantowski whose fever dream characters take that extra step into unhinged instability, crossing the line from enjoyable to memorable.