BTS, gym-bros, and buttcracks – oh my. Poetic License Creations, the theatre company behind Don Valley Girls, certainly didn’t hold back any punches when crafting their sketch comedy show.
Sketch comedy is overwhelmingly difficult to review. After all, comedy is subjective: what I find funny others might find merely “moderately amusing,” and vice versa. But what I loved about Don Valley Girls, which was presented as part of Why Not Theatre’s RISER initiative, was that there was a punchline or witty observation for everyone scattered throughout the 85-minute performance. Did I laugh at every sketch? No — I’m a cis white woman who definitely missed some references, and clearly needs to start listening to BTS. But did every joke land with someone in the audience? Absolutely: and that’s what really matters.
Walking into the Theatre Centre’s intimate BMO Incubator performance space, I immediately fell in love with Antonia Sinn’s simple yet clever set design. An on-ramp to the Don Valley Parkway (complete with graffiti-covered supports) spans the back of the stage, framing a backdrop of fake trees and stacked milk crates, the latter of which doubled as prop storage. Stunning. As someone who lives less than a block away from an almost-identical DVP on-ramp, I felt an almost-disturbing glee. I recognised this scene: it was relatable, smart, decidedly silly (did I mention that those graffiti-covered supports were miniscule, and very clearly cardboard? Charmingly hilarious), and suddenly turned the space from a blackbox theatre to a familiar environment. I knew this place, and I was excited to see what came next.
It turns out it wasn’t very hard to guess what came next. In a sketch comedy show which, in the words of its creators, is “crafted by women and non-binary folks exploring Somali/Korean/Palestinian/Pakistani Canadian perspectives,” a lot of the themes of the sketches align with the topics and dialogues one might expect. The show features bits about inadvertently coming out to your parents, protest sketches, shoutouts to the landback movement, commentaries on dude-bros with podcasts and a deep yet unspoken aversion to ever working out their legs… scenarios you’d expect to see from a young, progressive group of artists.
But just because some sketches verged upon predictable doesn’t mean they were ineffective.
A sketch about white-girl knitting parties had one of the best punchlines of the night. A piece about red flags on dating apps had me rolling in my seat. An uncomfortable and relatable phone conversation between a recently outed non-binary individual and their mother took a hard left turn into hilarity. What could easily be dismissed as the “liberal playbook” was well-planned and well-executed, providing fresh and funny takes on popular topics and culture. For every reference that went over my head (again, I really need to look into BTS, I didn’t understand a single joke but the rest of the opening night audience did and loved it), there was an unexpected twist or a comment that provided an in for audience members who lacked context to fully appreciate the comedy.
Where the show starts to fizzle is in some of the more surprising sketches. A stupendously unexpected butt-crack reveal is hilarious in the moment, but soon becomes overplayed and underwhelming. A Chris Angel-inspired sketch was entertaining to watch, but on opening night was almost inaudible over the music and the speed at which the performers spoke (though I must give a shout out to Mona Hersi, who fully committed to the bit of a demonic goat girl and stole the scene in the best way). A short piece about pigeons could have been funny, but was played too quickly for the full impact of the joke to land. A heartfelt piece about pollution was almost drowned out by the sounds of another show upstairs, and even the rustling of clothes from the other performers changing backstage.
Overall, the cast shone when playing out personal moments, but at times lacked commitment when creating larger-than-life characters. It’s hard to sustain the high-energy and commitment required for effective sketch comedy for any period of time, and this 85-minute show certainly tests its performers. The energy in the room started to wane around the 50-minute mark, revived slightly by the enthusiastic musical numbers that pepper the show, but the cast wasn’t able to fully recover the steam of the first few opening sketches. There were plenty of standout moments — Rabiya Mansoor, the show’s producer and one of the writer-performers, remained consistently strong throughout the night — but bringing the show to a tight 60 minutes, or adding a short interval to give the performers the chance to recharge might have been an auspicious choice.
That being said, Ayaka Kinugawa’s brilliant and extremely well-planned sound design helps to move the show along nicely, providing the performers with brief moments of respite without leaving the audience hanging. Kinugawa has managed to craft engaging, high-energy sound bites that were perfectly timed to the sketches and helped to maintain some energy throughout the entire show. A recurring subway sketch frames the beginning and end of the show, and the modified subway announcements again created a sense of familiarity for anyone who has used an underground rail system, though never at the expense of comedy.
Similarly, André du Toit’s brightly-coloured lighting design is everything millennial dreams are made of. From hot pink splashes of light to a gentle, river-inspired fluctuating green and blue waterscape, the lighting brings wow-factor to the small venue. It felt like we were perhaps a group of friends grabbing a drink at a fun comedy bar by the DVP. Heck, the show made the DVP itself seem fun. I returned to my DVP-adjacent home wishing there was a DVP-themed bar in the city. I would go to that bar.
There are still four more opportunities to catch Don Valley Girls at the Theatre Centre, and given the size of the venue, tickets will go fast. No matter what your comedic tastes are, there is truly something for everyone down by the DVP.
Don Valley Girls is playing at the Theatre Centre until April 24, 2022. To purchase tickets and find out more about the RISER project, visit Why Not Theatre’s website.