When Woolly Mammoth Theatre first welcomed The Second City in 2009 for the political romp “Barack Stars,” director Marc Warzecha quickly realized the Chicago-based comedy troupe had found itself a willing scene partner in D.C. audiences.
The production featured some “best of” Second City sketches that had “played well everywhere,” Warzecha recalls. But in the heart of Washington, at a venue lawmakers, aides and lobbyists could stroll to after a day on Capitol Hill? There, those sketches struck a chord.
“The D.C. audience was so sharp, and so on top of every little reference we would make politically,” Warzecha says. “That was really fun and really rewarding. When you look at the history of The Second City, it was in part founded to be a politically and socially satiric institution. I think that’s a good marriage for Washington, D.C.”
Although The Second City — famed for molding the likes of Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert — has permanent theaters only in Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto, a comedy fan could be forgiven next month for thinking the 59-year-old troupe was “yes, and”-ing its way to a fourth residence in D.C.
For the third straight year, both Woolly Mammoth and the Kennedy Center will house Second City productions throughout December. At Woolly, the feminist revue “She the People” will kick off Monday to celebrate a decade of Second City imports at the intimate theater. A day later, the Kennedy Center’s Theater Lab will debut the world-premiere holiday parody “Love, Factually” — co-written by Warzecha — as part of a new, formal partnership with The Second City.
“D.C. is considered to be a ‘serious’ place where serious things happen,” “She the People” director Carly Heffernan says. “So to have an outlet where you can find that cathartic, comedic release? I think it’s so important for a D.C. audience.”
The past two holiday seasons, the Kennedy Center has hosted the Warzecha-directed “Twist Your Dickens,” a Second City production that had already been staged elsewhere. The venue upped the ante in March by announcing an official alliance through at least 2020, in which the two parties agreed to co-commission six original shows for Kennedy Center audiences.
“When you can only see those shows here, that’s the type of reward and excitement that stems from the core of this partnership,” says Jeffrey Finn, the Kennedy Center’s vice president of theater producing and programming.
“Love, Factually” is the second product of the collaboration, which also birthed the millennial-roasting satire “Generation Gap” this past summer. In spoofing the 2003 film “Love Actually,” writers hope their partially ad-libbed show delivers a spirited take on the much-parodied holiday favorite while also proving accessible for attendees who haven’t seen the movie.
“There are certain memorable moments from the film that we felt like we absolutely wanted to parody and to satirize, but we wanted to look for our own original takes on those moments,” Warzecha says. “Part of the way we hope we’ve accomplished that is including improvisation.”
That’s not to say the script wasn’t painstakingly crafted: Co-writers Warzecha, Nancy Hayden and Damon Royster spent the past year workshopping the show while fielding feedback from producers at both the Kennedy Center and The Second City.
“She the People,” on the other hand, is an established Second City show that premiered in 2017 in Chicago and began a run in Toronto this past August. While the Kennedy Center is catering to the holiday spirit with “Love, Factually,” Woolly’s production of “She the People” provides more politically topical counterprogramming.
Written and performed entirely by women, with an all-female crew, the production turns a cathartic and comedic eye toward topics such as body image, motherhood and the #MeToo movement. As the news cycle evolves, so does the show.
“It does what we have always done at the satirical institution of Second City, which is look at the world around you and put that onstage,” says Heffernan, who’s also directed the show in Chicago and Toronto. “But this does it with an authentic female voice. These are POVs and observations made by women, written by women and then performed by women.”
In collaborating with the two D.C. venues, The Second City worked to find concepts that would connect with audiences here and were tailored to the sensibilities of each theater. “She the People” proved to be a natural fit for the experimental Woolly Mammoth, while “Love, Factually” satisfied the Kennedy Center’s desire to put on a holiday-themed show with generation-spanning appeal.
“When you get to the bottom of what each entity is looking for, it automatically lends itself to two very different kinds of shows,” says Jen Hoyt, The Second City’s vice president of production.
But “Love, Factually” and “She the People” both follow the tried-and-tested Second City revue formula (also seen locally in recent years at Wolf Trap and the Arlington Drafthouse), in which written sketches are blended with improvised segments and calls for audience participation.
And the shows share The Second City’s offbeat voice, which has been increasingly amplified in D.C.
“It’s a city that wants to be on the cutting edge, always looking forward,” Heffernan says. “That aligns really well with Second City. That’s what we want to be putting on our stages as well, and that’s the messaging we want to be sending to our audiences.”
“She the People”: Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St. NW; Mon. through Jan. 6, $20-$82.
“Love, Factually”: Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; Tue. through Dec. 31, $59-$85.