Oh, Canada: the True North Strong and Funny is a great way to celebrate a country that can laugh at itself

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      Produced by Vancouver TheatreSports League. At the Improv Centre on Granville Island on Friday, July 7. Continues Thursday to Saturday until September 2

      In this summer of our nation’s sesquicentennial, there are all sorts of one-off festivities, but an ongoing one is perhaps the most enjoyable. Vancouver TheatreSports League’s Oh, Canada: The True North Strong and Funny is really the best way to celebrate. Not only does it touch on many of our collective accomplishments (some of them real) and stereotypes, but it highlights perhaps our greatest trait: our sense of humour.

      The show on this night started with host Brad Rossington canoeing onto the rustic set dressed as a scout leader, setting the stage perfectly for what was to come. Rossington’s fully defined character was a soft-spoken golly-gee-shucks Mr. Rogers type. “Welcome to Canada, everybody!” he opened with. Every game along the way, no matter how established it was in the improv world, was tweaked toward a Canadian angle. We were instructed not to yell out suggestions because that’s not too Canadian; rather, we should just say them loudly. And polite host that he was, every suggestion thrown his way, no matter how inane or inappropriate, was greeted encouragingly.

      The cast, all dressed in plaid and known as “the Canadians” (on this night Dan Dumsha, Jeff Gladstone, Ken Lawson, Lauren McGibbon, Margret Nyfors, and Pearce Visser), improvised their introductions based on the rousingly patriotic Molson beer ad "I Am Canadian". They moved on to perform one scene set in three distinct Canadian locales: Sarnia, Montreal, and Surrey. The last one felt like a “magician’s choice”, i.e., a seemingly free choice, but you know that when asked for a Lower Mainland city or community, 10 times out of 10 the crowd will pick Surrey.

      The troupe did a tag-out scene, an old, reliable game in improv, but with a Canadian twist that was hilarious in its execution. In the two-person scene, the other actors tap one of the actors on the shoulder to replace them at any time to take the scene in a new direction. But rudely interrupting a scene is so very un-Canadian, so instead of a tap, the performers would politely and deferentially say “I’m sorry but…” with their explanation of how they’d do it differently, then wait for the invitation from Rossington.

      My favourite adaptation was three “hockey parents” sitting in the crowd, alternately joyfully helpful to, and occasionally critical of, their three actor “kids” on-stage in a made-up Canadian play, Dude, Where’s My Poutine?. The game is usually played with heckling improvisers rather than constructive cheerleaders.

      The Improv Centre made use of the big screen, too. We saw the real Heritage Minute featuring the Canadian invention of basketball, and a real Hinterland Who’s Who on the beaver, as introductions to improvised versions. Who knew, for example, that the sanitary napkin was a Canadian invention inspired by mummy attack?

      The show closed with the Canadians singing songs by the campfire. Visser sang an ode to maple syrup, McGibbon managed to make musical hay with a ditty about mechanical engineers, and Dumsha extemporized on the Terry Fox monument, to which Lawson on guitar added the refrain “Let’s get hoppin’!” Too soon? Maybe, but it was funny.