A new one-person show, performed by Kate Berlant, with performances through Feb 11.
The name KATE looms omnipresent over the whole theatre. The sign over the box office has been changed from “TICKETS” to “TIKATES,” “Concessions” become “Katecessions,” even in the bathroom, the mirror says “KATE,” with a life-sized cut-out of the comedian adorning one stall — invading even that most intimate space. There’s a meta-millennial sensibility to the whole thing; an attention to the construction, reproduction and omnipresence of identity which form the core themes of the show.
Above production photo by Jeff Lorch. Ticket information below.
KATE is tight and screamingly funny — a millennial Brecht, where the curtain is ripped back over and over again in an ironic dialogue between performer and audience to ask: What stories are worth telling (and do we even need story)? What is the value of truth versus presentation? And — what is the value of being with each other in the theatre, versus seeing each other mediated by screens?
A one-woman show, the second character in KATE is the massive screen upstage which greets us, even before the performer comes onstage. In text, it bullies the audience into greeting the people next to them, feeds us self-serious Oscar Wilde quotes about theatre, and hypes up performer Kate Berlant by showing clips of her TV work, her IMDB page, anything to say: yes, this person is worthy, you have seen her before, it’s makes sense that you are here, that you’ve chosen to do this with your Friday night. The anxiety over “enoughness” in this, alongside layers of bravado, and separation of the performer’s body from their voice (in text form), is timed just right to be cripplingly funny.
The screen serves as the show’s only set, other than a camera on a tripod in the corner. It announces each scene’s location: PORCH. NEW YORK CITY. Often the timing of the text alone is enough to get a laugh. Berlant spends a good third of the show speaking into the onstage camera, her face projected and blown up to 50-feet behind her so we can see every detail. “You can see I’m crying!” she declares, contorting her face ridiculously. And, her face magnified 100 times, we can clearly see that she…is not.
There’s something deliciously vaudeville about Berlant’s performance, which teases melodrama with deadpan, deconstructing what it means to perform on various levels — to a camera or to an audience, as a character or as the self. She slides in and out of theatre tropes (the blue-collar janitor, the abusive Irish mother) and in and out of storylines, continually revising and deconstructing the narrative she’s telling us, calling herself on her bullshit before we have a chance to even suspect it.
Comedians are masters of timing, and here the lights and the projections get in on the action — KATE is riddled with alleged “accidents,” accompanied by a long-running and antagonistic dialogue from the stage with the tech person. The narrative, which is positioned from the start as a series of artificial cliches, is quickly abandoned. The show turns in on itself to become a pure, ridiculous, and surprising meditation on the nature of performance itself.
“If only 600 people saw my Instagram Reel I’d kill myself!” she admonishes the 600-seat Pasadena Playhouse. In the next breath, she asserts the value of theatre as a “threat to the commodification of our lives.” We are expected to package our stories for consumption, and it’s here where the continual teasing and refusal of the intimate (and even the true!), becomes the central tension of the show. What does it look like, the show asks, to create a plot with the trappings of a trauma story, but without any real trauma at its core? Is plot just structure? Can structure, itself, become plot?
Kate is presented by and at the Pasadena Playhouse and plays through February 11, 2024.
Written and performed by Kate Berlant
Directed by Bo Burnham
Tickets start at $39.00 and are available online here.