Review: CHAOS MENU: DISORDER UP! at Second City

At Second City's 88th mainstage revue, anarchy's on special

By: Nov. 17, 2023
Review: CHAOS MENU: DISORDER UP! at Second City

Chaos reigns in Second City’s new sketch offering, CHAOS MENU: DISORDER UP! That’s not surprising; the best types of sketch comedy are, by their nature, somewhat chaotic. For the 88th mainstage show, though, the talented cast (PHATT al, Andy Assaf, Coko Galore, Devon Henderson, Liz Johnston, and Ron Pedersen) really lean into the concept, creating a show that thrives on anarchy.

The opening number, vaguely reminiscent of a more accident-prone version of “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” introduces us to the premise connecting the disparate collection: there’s a glitch in the matrix, represented by the flashing of the Stage Door sign (set by Camellia Koo), and all the sketches are coming apart and then mashing together in strange ways. “Anything can happen!” the cast claims. While slightly less thematically cohesive than some recent Second City offerings, the show’s relatable topics, warmly playful nostalgia, and inclusive improv means that everything that does happen is very, very funny.

Directed by Royal Canadian Air Farce’s Darryl Hinds in his first mainstage revue, it’s hard to believe that this is also Ron Pederson’s Second City debut (to be fair, he was offered a spot in the company twenty years ago before deciding to join MadTV instead), because he takes on his role of musical narrator or prevaricating politician with ease. A scene where he demonstrates the deeply questionable lyrics of every era’s pop music is a real treat, as he commits to the gyrations of each decade with squeaky-clean charm before reminding us that there were never such a thing as the good old days.

Liz Johnston comes crashing in with a pitch-perfect parody of “The Ladies Who Lunch,” thanking “the people who came.” Johnston, always a bold presence, shines in the improv portion, crackling with bombast in bits of audience interaction when playing half of an ex-couple desperately looking for impressive dates when they run into each other at (who’d have thought) a comedy show, or one of three monks staging an impromptu Gregorian chant to welcome the Pope.

Pianist Shane O’Regan provides an excellent backdrop for these moments, including the occasional entertaining costume change (wardrobe by Judith Ann Clancy) to help set the scene. Assaf, often Johnston’s improv partner, is equally entertaining in his asides to the audience, with indelible facial expressions; his role as Ravioli Man (just wait for it) will haunt your dreams.

The show mines much of its best humour out of sketches that play with the way we use  language. One sketch savagely skewers the proliferation of therapy-speak in the workplace, two women accusing their male boss of trauma dumping while he’s also trying to dump piles of accounting reports before they get audited; another features the frustration of a lunching Black businesswoman whose white colleagues seem to possess a physical inability to say the word “black” in any context. My favourite scene had an agonizingly deliberate build as three late-night podcast hosts battle over how time zones work, which feels like a car crash in slow motion and also every ludicrous discussion you’ve ever been sucked into on the internet.

Henderson and Galore, both terrific here, are more reserved presences, but add balance and an appealing energy to each one of their appearances, as Henderson exclaims, “Boundaries aren’t made of time!” to Galore’s implacable face, or Galore’s daydreaming couple’s therapist finally gets sick of her clients’ constant flashbacks and steps into her own.

While language-based laughs are on full display, PHATT al is the MVP of physical comedy, giving a particularly fantastic performance as a bald eagle with a grudge against his owner’s sister. He effectively preens and ruffles himself, acting sweet as pigeon pie before suddenly swooping around, an angry bird frenziedly miming his prey’s demise to an appropriate soundtrack. He also makes the most of his expansive energy when he wanders into the audience as a member of a Hardy Boys-esque adventure team who refuses to stop solving mysteries even as his friends gain mortgages, kids, and bad backs.

If you’ve seen a number of Second City shows, you know that what makes everything hang together is the second half of the show’s callbacks and references to sketches in the first, which creates tenuous but satisfying continuity without requiring a storyline. In CHAOS MENU, the premise underscores these callbacks, flickering lights (technical director John Kelly) and glitching sounds highlighting the earlier references when normally we’re expected to just notice them.

In a way, this lampshading of the device by calling attention to it is a little disappointing, celebrating its own cleverness instead of giving the audience the joy of subtle recognition. On the other hand, this allows the writers to play with those references more, twisting and shaping them as they alter the other sketches in which they appear in a mildly Frankensteinian manner. This is a really fun device, which could potentially be explored to even wilder heights in the future.

Saying “CHAOS MENU serves up a good time” seems like the cliché thing to do, but it’s true. Over and over, this is a dinner you don’t want to miss. You’ll be first, second, and dessert coursing with laughter.

BroadwayWorld Awards Voting


Review: WITHROW PARK at Tarragon Theatre Photo
Review: WITHROW PARK at Tarragon Theatre

In WITHROW PARK, Morris Panych’s new play at Tarragon Theatre, we see a view into a neighbourhood a little less than 7 kilometres away from where we sit. Panych’s script is quippy and fun with a philosophical bent about aging, mortality, and the ability to start again at any point, but just like its characters, finds it hard to achieve balance between those two states.

Review: AINT TOO PROUD at Ed Mirvish Theatre Photo
Review: AIN'T TOO PROUD at Ed Mirvish Theatre

Ain't Too Proud, playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre for a limited engagement, brings the life and times of Motown's finest, The Temptations, to the Toronto stage in a toe-tapping 'Behind the Music'-style spectacular that will leave audiences jaw-dropped.

Review: CHRIS, MRS. at Winter Garden Theatre Photo
Review: CHRIS, MRS. at Winter Garden Theatre

CHRIS, MRS., bills itself as a musical version of a Hallmark holiday movie, and it does exactly—and I mean exactly—what it says on the tin. If you are a lover of Hallmark family entertainment, you’ll be over the moon for this show. It boasts entertaining lyrics, killer dance moves, adorable children, and a quirky, can-do spirt. That also means that it has ALL the parts of a Hallmark movie, for better or for worse.

Nancy Webster to Step Down as Executive Director of Young Peoples Theatre Photo
Nancy Webster to Step Down as Executive Director of Young People's Theatre

Young People’s Theatre has announced that Nancy Webster will step down as Executive Director at the end of the 2023.24 season, after more than 15 years of extraordinary leadership.

From This Author - Ilana Lucas

Ilana Lucas is an English professor at Toronto’s Centennial College. She holds a BA in English and Theatre from Princeton University, and an MFA in Dramaturgy and Script Development from Columbi... Ilana Lucas">(read more about this author)


Les Miserables in Toronto Les Miserables
Princess of Wales Theatre (3/26-6/01)
Handel Messiah in Toronto Handel Messiah
Tafelmusik (12/14-12/16)
Chris, Mrs. - A New Holiday Musical  in Toronto Chris, Mrs. - A New Holiday Musical
Winter Garden Theatre (12/05-12/31)
The Laundry List in Toronto The Laundry List
Al Green Theatre (Miles Nadal JCC) (1/27-1/28)
Sing-Along Messiah in Toronto Sing-Along Messiah
Tafelmusik (12/17-12/17)
TSO Holiday Pops in Toronto TSO Holiday Pops
Toronto Symphony Orchestra (12/11-12/13)
All Of Us Are Naughty in Toronto All Of Us Are Naughty
The Assembly Theatre (12/01-12/29)
Comic Books Live! in Toronto Comic Books Live!
The Assembly Theatre (12/21-12/21)
Christmas Birthdays Suck! in Toronto Christmas Birthdays Suck!
The Assembly Theatre (12/09-12/14)
Blake and Clay's Gay Agenda in Toronto Blake and Clay's Gay Agenda
The Assembly Theatre (12/27-12/30)

Recommended For You