Friday, May 24, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Sketchfest

Vest of Friends

Highs and Lows
but Toronto's Vest of Friends a breath of fresh, funky air
by Caitlin Murphy

Montreal’s Sketchfest, now celebrating its 8th year, is serving up a week-long comedy buffet at Theatre Ste. Catherine.  Though its PR boasts acts from as far afield as Chicago, Vancouver and Calgary, the festival’s specific line up features troupes primarily from Montreal and Toronto, with one each from New York and Philadelphia.

In last night’s early show, the strongest acts book-ended the evening: Toronto’s all-female Lady Business, and all-male Vest of Friends both delivered solid sets.  The evening overall though, clocking in at almost 2.5 hours, certainly wore beyond its potential appeal.  Maxing out at three acts per show, or cutting some of the emcee’s rambling intro would make for a tighter night, with a mightier punch.
The evening’s last troupe, Toronto’s Vest of Friends, thus arrived like a breath of fresh, funky air.

The three member Lady Business kicked off the evening well.  Their material, mostly rooted in comedy of contrasts – a rapping nun, a 6 year-old mafia boss, trailer trash economy experts – quickly got the audience onboard.  Their writing is considered and well-developed; one of the most original sketches – featuring seamen’s wives pining by the shore for the return of their husbands’ ship –  with a bit more spit-and-polish, could be brilliant.   Frustratingly though, the ladies are often rather staid in their delivery; busting out their business with more brio would immediately up their game.

Get Off the Stage (Montreal) and Short Form Richards (Toronto) were the evening’s soggy middle ground.  Too generic in their approach, both troupes threw out some weak-armed volleys, which the audience seemed content to let fall.  Though they each found some highlights along the way, neither group had a distinct enough comedic style or confident enough raison d’etre to pull off a compelling or cohesive set.

The evening’s last troupe, Toronto’s Vest of Friends, thus arrived like a breath of fresh, funky air.  The audience, numbing a bit to the black-out sketch format, seemed instantly revived by the group’s wily and erratic approach.  An early sketch, a town meeting of disgruntled citizens complaining that the weather has become too sexy, was an absolute riot.  Even when riffing on well-worn jokes (why can’t Lois Lane tell that Superman and Clark Kent are the same guy?), the group’s energy and swagger kept each moment alive, playful, and imminently watchable.  

For a form that can appear so casual and cool, footloose and fancy free, sketch comedy requires at base a whole lot of discipline, commitment and focus. As with people who ‘wanna be in a band,’ often those drawn to doing sketch are compelled by reasons that can actually be at odds with those drawn to watching it.  

As Vest of Friends made their jolting entrance, and bounded up to the stage, I noticed one guy in particular with a hunter’s look in his eyes, a rather fierce readiness to pounce, and was reminded of that old comedy adage: those who do it best, take it very very seriously.

To May 26

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