I find one-person shows one of the most difficult types of theatre to review, for several reasons. If the quality of the writing or performance isn’t good, there may be nothing but negative aspects to report, which is kind of a drag. In a regular show, at least some of the other performances may be noteworthy. Also, one-person shows tend to not have much in the way of sets, lighting or sound design (or sometimes even noticeable direction), so there’s even less to critique in a review. Fortunately, the new production at the Pasadena Playhouse, Kate, is witty, entertaining and charmingly performed by its talented star, Kate Berlant.
Before the show begins, Berlant is seated on a stool in the theater lobby, wearing a sign that reads: IGNORE ME, which deliberately smacks of performance art. Once the audience is seated, a series of pictures of Berlant are projected onto a backdrop screen onstage – very self-consciously arty poses, the pompousness of which is deflated by displays of her IMDB page and contact numbers for her agents. Berlant then takes the stage to perform different scenes in a myriad of characters and accents, occasionally breaking the fourth wall to ask the audience if they understood a particular bit or to berate an offstage member of the show crew. It emerges that in an audition, she was unable to cry on cue, and the question of the play becomes: will she be able to cry on cue for the next audition?
Although Kate is a solo show largely making fun of the clichés of solo shows, it still effectively accomplishes the goal of most of those productions, which is to showcase a particular performer’s range. Berlant is a confident and likeable stage presence who develops an immediate rapport with the audience. She can whipsaw from pseudo-bitchy commentary (“It’s like the fucking Indie Spirit Awards in here,”) to “dramatic reveals,” from seemingly genuine emotion to broad physical comedy. Berlant is clearly a very gifted performer, although she did seem to rely a bit too much on making silly faces for the camera at a few points for my taste.
Director Bo Burnham employs live video and lighting changes to provide visual accompaniment to his performer, and his pacing is swift, clocking in at an hour and fifteen minutes on the evening I saw the show. Berlant’s writing is impressively sharp and funny (“I don’t have kids, I have merch.”), touching on all the tropes of solo shows, including the recounting of trauma (a solemnly intoned, “That was every day in that house.”), the painful revelation of a secret, an inspiring ending and character work (especially her mother, portrayed in a very over-the-top Irish accent).
Kate is that rare thing – a great solo show. Let’s hope L.A. audiences provide her with plenty of company.
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.