If you’re looking for a fun evening of holiday romcom parody, Second City’s Love, Factually delivers the goods. Lovers and haters of the 2003 British film Love, Actually will find a lot of references, but there is plenty in the show for even those who haven’t seen the film. Go for the Christmas-y nostalgia, but stay for the talented performers.
Love, Factually cheerfully dissects several of the romantic relationship plot lines from the original movie, poking fun at every romcom cliché they include. The action starts in the office of recent divorcee Cassie who is a script writer for the Hallmark channel. She’s tired of the sickly sweet romantic holiday movies the channel pumps out, so she decides to write a script about how romance goes wrong. She is discouraged in her plans by fellow scriptwriter Tobias, who is relentlessly into every saccharine trope and is writing his own take on holiday romance. Further complicating things for Cassie is a cute delivery guy who keeps dropping hints that he’s interested in her. Add in visitations from the fairy godmother of British romance herself, Jane Austen, and Cassie’s humbug attitude begins to show signs of cracking.
closes December 31, 2018
Details and tickets
This show is all about the performers. Staged at the Theater Lab at the Kennedy Center, the set is spare with a desk and swooping columns reminiscent of an airport terminal. The special effects and music cues all work to support the focus on the performers. The writer’s room at Hallmark provides the framework for the rest of the show’s scenes. We follow the cast through multiple romantic plot lines and character changes, with singing and dancing numbers throughout. While the show did keep the pacing brisk, it got off to a shaky start. It took a while to introduce all of the different romantic stories, and during all those introductions, the performances felt stiff and the jokes fell a bit flat.
Fortunately, things turned around when they began to include improvisation. As soon as the cast had a moment of freedom from their scripted lines, they seemed to relax more fully into the show, giving the audience a chance to relax too. It made me wish they had sprinkled in more improvisational elements earlier, since the scenes with crowd participation (don’t sit in the front row if you don’t want to be picked!) got some of the best reactions of the evening. That’s not to say that the scripted parts didn’t provide a lot of laughs. The scenes with Jane Austen and the excerpts from Tobias’s screenplays were consistently funny. The cast also displayed the versatility of their talents in the musical numbers, particularly during the “Embrace the Cliche” rap.
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While the sharp and clever moments in the show highlighted the cast’s abilities, often I was left feeling like there was a lot of talent up there that was going untapped. The most noticeable example was with Erica Elam as Cassie. Elam mostly served as a not terribly memorable narrator, but when Elam performed in the musical numbers her improvisational and performance skills were formidable. I want to see what else she could do. Two ensemble members, Kaye Winks and Gary-Kayi Fletcher, played a few over-the-top characters that never quite made it all the way to funny. However, when they were paired as Danielle and Steve, they had genuinely sweet chemistry and gave the show its cutest and most tender moments.
The standout performances of the evening came from Mary Catherine Curran and Aaron Bliden. Curran was freaking hilarious as a sexy barista, senior citizen Norma, and Jane Austen. Her ability to completely transform herself into wildly different characters was amazing, and she has an excellent sense of physical comedic presence. Watch out for the moments when Austen channels Beyonce. Bliden leaned all the way into the sad sack characters of the Delivery Guy and Marc, and he worked embarrassing moments to great effect. I found myself regularly laughing at his facial expressions and the way the emotions of his characters affected his entire physicality. His interpretive dance number as Marc is not to be missed.
So for a chance this season to see some talented people be funny on stage, Love, Factually brings some good holiday cheer.
Love, Factually by Nancy Hayden, Damon Royster, and Marc Warzecha. Directed by Frank Caeti. Cast: Anne Bowles (Daisy, Carrie, Ensemble), Aaron Bliden (Delivery Guy, Marc, Ensemble), Mary Catherine Curran (Norma, Jane Austen, Ensemble), Erica Elam (Cassie), Gary-Kayi Fletcher (Steve, Tobias, Ensemble), Martin Garcia (Carl, Peter, Ensemble), John Lescault (Aaron, Jonny Jack, Ensemble), Kaye Winks (Keira, Danielle, Ensemble). Scenic Design by Colin K. Bills. Lighting Design by Max Doolittle. Costume Design by Amy MacDonald. Sound Design and Original Music by Dan Wessels. Properties Design by Patti Kalil. Choreography by Michael J. Bobbitt. Production Assistance by Donna Reinhold. Stage Management by Allie Roy. Produced by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Second City. Reviewed by Kate Gorman.