“If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love, actually, is all around.” But is it? The Second City takes a comedic journey through the romantic cliches of the holiday season, and the iconic Christmas rom-com “Love, Actually” in their annual December show at the Kennedy Center. Appropriately titled “Love, Factually,” this talented group of performers asks the question- are the holidays really a magical time for love, or is it just full of manufactured flim-flam?
The show itself was incredibly funny and inventive, but also had a lot of heart.
For those not familiar with The Second City, they have been performing improv-based sketch comedy for over 50 years. They have permanent residency shows in Chicago, Toronto, and Hollywood and they also perform shows all across the United States. Some of their alumni have gone on to rise to the top of Hollywood’s comedy scene: Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, Steve Carell, Martin Short, and Steven Colbert are just a few notables. They have done many successful shows at the Kennedy Center, and frequently one of them has been holiday themed.
The primary source of this year’s show’s parody is the 2003 film “Love, Actually,” starring huge names like Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, and Liam Neeson. The movie features several interconnecting stories of love lost, love found, and love complicated. While there are a few sadder story-lines, the majority of the stories end in love triumphant, accompanied by a swelling emotional score. The Second City plays on these tropes, and adds a few of their own.
The show opens on Cassie (Erica Elam), a disillusioned writer for the Hallmark Channel. She is tired of cranking out syrup-sweet holiday movies, feeling like their sunny look at love is a lie. She decides to write a “truthful” movie, much to the horror of her colleague, Tobias (Gary-Kayi Fletcher) who loves the schmaltz. Within her script are versions of characters of from “Love Actually:” Jonny Jack, aging rock-star adapting his biggest hit into a Christmas tune (John Lescault), Marc (Aaron Bliden), who is distraught because his best friend Peter (Martin Garcia) is marrying the perfect Keira (Kaye Winks), married couple Carrie (Anne Bowles) and Aaron (John Lescault) whose marriage is tested when the former develops an interest in a sexy barista (Mary Catherine Curran) and Steve, who has a crush on his senator boss (Kaye Winks), and gets some help from his daughter (Anne Bowles.)
However, the Second City did not just stick to the film’s storylines- they added an additional one as well, since they felt the movie neglected the elderly. Carl (Martin Garcia) is in a nursing home and is delighted by the arrival of Norma (Mary-Catherine Curran.) But they struggle with their burgeoning relationship since they feel guilt over moving on from their now-deceased partners. As Cassie lays out these stories, they play to normal type, but she has diabolical plans for all of her characters, at least until she receives a visit from the ghost of Jane Austen (Mary-Catherine Curran.) Will Cassie continue on with her “truthful” love stories? Will she give in to Jane’s coaching? Will she ever notice the cute delivery boy who obviously likes her?
Just like their show (The Generation Gap) from earlier this year, “Love, Factually” is a razor sharp and incredibly comedic offering. Some highlights of this show for me were the flashback 80’s TAB commercial done by Jonny Jack, an airport security pat-down ballet, an original song about meet-cutes, and some truly first-rate interactions with the audience.
All eight performers are at the top of their games and play off each other effortlessly. Elam anchors the piece as Cassie, and her combination of snark and charm work perfectly for this show. She is especially impressive in a late-Act II rap that showcases both her comic chops and rhythmic talents. Since all the other actors play multiple roles, they have a lot to keep track of, but they do it all perfectly. Lescault and Bowles excel in all their roles but are particularly effective as the husband and wife duo. They were able to deliver laughs, while still injecting some honest feelings into a tough point in their relationship. And even though it was a bit contrived, they delivered a much happier end to their story than the base material.
Fletcher and Winks also charm as the “will they, won’t they” couple Danielle and Steve- again, their strength is
The show itself was incredibly funny and inventive, but also had a lot of heart. This has shown to be a trend of the Second City’s productions at the Kennedy Center, and it’s one that this reviewer hopes will continue.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with a 20 minute intermission.
Advisory: Due to some raunchy humor, this show is recommended for audiences 16 and up.
“Love, Factually” runs through Monday, December 31st at the Kennedy Center’s Theatre Lab. For more information on upcoming Kennedy Center productions, click here.