Romantic comedy movies can be saccharine, especially when they’re set during the holidays. Some people love these fluffy flicks, and others love to riff on them. But no matter how someone feels about holiday rom-coms, The Second City’s Love, Factually is a silly jaunt that’s sure to make both romantics and cynics laugh out loud.
As with most Second City DC shows, the production consists of improv, sketch comedy, musical numbers, and audience participation—this time, they’re all wrapped up in a theme of holiday romance. Cassie, played by Kate Lambert, is a writer who is rebooting the British holiday classic Love Actually, giving the film a cynical upgrade by calling out its unrealistic portrayals of love. In a slight nod to A Christmas Carol, she is visited by Jane Austen’s ghost (Inessa Frantowski), who rebuts Cassie’s cynicism and desperately wants to set her up on a date. Frantowski’s version of the author is cackle-inducing, especially when she transitions between lines like “off-the-chain” and late 18th-century vernacular.
Second City’s Love, Factually closes December 29, 2019. Details and tickets
Throughout the show, scenes from Cassie’s reboot of Love Actually come to life, portrayed by actors Frankowski, Aaron Bliden, Anne Bowles, Renea S. Brown, Eric M. Messner, Ian Owens, and Scott Ward Abernethy. The original film is rife with clichés, sexism, and body-shaming: a perfect storm of rom-com tropes for Love, Factually castmates to parody.
In the film, an awkward romance between the prime minister and one of his staff members ensues. Love, Factually swaps the character’s genders and turns the PM into a fictional senator from Rhode Island (Brown) who is intensely concerned with the state of Rhode Island-New Hampshire relations. Love, Factually also takes the film’s most surreal scene (one that features modelesque American women ogling over a British man at a Milwaukee bar) and turns it into an enjoyable instance of audience participation. While watching the movie beforehand certainly gives viewers more context for some of the jokes, they’re written to stand on their own so that anyone who hasn’t seen the film can find them comedic.
This Second City show leans heavily on audience participation. For audience members sitting in the first few rows, there are many opportunities to be called on and questioned, and there’s even a recurring sketch that requires two people to join the cast on stage. It’s during the audience bits that the cast’s improv abilities shine and sometimes flounder. The night I saw the show, the cast made a few observations that were weak and predictable, but those moments were scarce, as most of the improvised sections successfully caught the audience off guard.
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Owens was exceptionally funny during his improv scenes. His brand of dark humor is unique but doesn’t detract from the production’s snappy flow. I nearly rolled out of my seat laughing when he lovingly looked at an audience member and said, “She looks just as lovely as when she drove our children into that lake.”
The show also comes with a delightful dose of dance sequences that pay homage to The Nutcracker, feelings of heartbreak, and holiday travel. Picture a TSA agent dancing ballet with the person they’re searching: it’s pure hilarity.
One of the best parts of Love, Factually is its balance between making fun of romantic tropes and celebrating the joyful nature of rom-coms and love—this comes through the dynamic between Cassie and Jane Austen’s ghost. When Cassie harps on the ridiculousness of meet-cutes, Austen highlights their sweet nature. When Cassie criticizes rom-com clichés, Austen claps back with a hip-hop number about embracing them. As negativity and skepticism take a front-row seat on the internet, it’s refreshing to see Love, Factually choose to address both rom-coms and their critics.
Even with some less-than-stellar improv, the show is two hours of lighthearted, yuletide fun that embraces the polarizing nature of rom-coms.
The Second City’s Love, Factually by Nancy Hayden, Damon Royster, and Marc Warzecha. Directed by Frank Caeti. Featuring Aaron Bliden, Anne Bowles, Renea S. Brown, Inessa Frantowski, Kate Lambert, Eric M. Messner, Ian Owens, and Scott Ward Abernethy. Scenic design: Colin K. Bills. Lighting design: Max Doolittle. Costume design: Amy MacDonald. Sound design: Matthew Nielson. Properties design: Patti Kalil. Stage manager: Leigh Robinette. Presented by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and The Second City. Reviewed by Emily Priborkin.
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