Bad Dog Theatre brings back their popular Toronto, I Love You, an “An Unconventional Love Letter to the City,” featuring improv sketches set in three Toronto neighbourhoods selected by the audience. As storylines develop, the three areas and the characters we meet connect in clever, amusing ways.
The opening night performance I took in featured the RC Harris Water Filtration Plant, Alexandrea Pool and Korea Town. Before the performers begin their sketches, they probe for a few specific details about the charms of each suggested area, collecting elements for their world-building. The art deco architecture of the RC Harris Water Filtration Plant, the hipsters that frequent the mostly vacant Alexandra Park Pool and the free samplings of food available in Korea Town all figured prominently.
The ensemble cast (Kyle Dooley, Rob Baker, Nadine Djoury, Nigel Downer, Devon Henderson, Lucy Hill, Paloma Nuñez, Anders Yates and Carolyne Das) has a warm and inviting chemistry. It feels as if this team truly enjoys working together and that playful and supportive energy—fostered, I imagine, by director Julie Dumais Osborne—helps to pull you in even when any individual sketch begins to wear at the seams.
They began with a series of abstract and atmospheric, movement-based vignettes to set-up each neighbourhood. I appreciated this opening sequence as a concept, though the actual execution was a little unfocused. Elaborate movement between a lot of people requires considerable pre-planning and choreography to be properly effective. This being improv, that pre-planning isn’t possible, though they do a fine job of pulling together to present a few intriguing visuals. Nick DiGaetano’s improvised musical accompaniment also helps to make this seem more focused that it actually is.
Each sketch gave me a few good chuckles, though there are a some that really stood out for me. My favourite character was Nuñez’ nervous square who can’t go on a date without puking. Her storyline—where she tries weed, finds her cool and becomes a reckless felon—is hilarious. Particularly perfect is a scene in a Baskin Robbins where the two servers (Baker and Yates) represent her high with their spot-on slow-motion interactions with her.
Another highlight for me was Downer’s water whisperer, a filtration plant technician trying to teach a newbie co-workers how to stop leaks with soothing, sexy talk. The ensemble cast, portraying these leaks, give unique and defined personalities to each. It’s such giddy, whimsical absurdity and they somehow make it real.
I wasn’t invested the entire time, but there are a number of fine call backs to earlier gags and the disparate storylines are pulled together well. The epic finale though, which brings all the characters in for a final chase, is truly well-paced and inspired.
The specific hits or misses will be different from show to show and some suggested neighbourhoods will present more humorous possibilities than others. This troupe is sure to surprise and tickle you with some quirky characters and inventive moments.