Theater Review: Comedian Kate Berlant Brilliantly Skewers the One-Person Show in “Kate”

Kevin Taft reviews the hilarious one-person show "Kate" from comedian Kate Berlant, which goes out of its way to tear the idea of these sorts of shows apart.
User Rating: 9

Solo shows by actors and/or comedians that posit to give the audience some revelatory truth about themselves or the world are, let’s face it, a dime a dozen.

Speaking to the audience in a sort of start-and-stop, tilted way about how they came to be and what they’ve noticed about the world around them has become like an ultra-extended version of an Instagram post or Tik-Tok revelation.

Everyone has something to say. Something they feel is profound. Important. And mostly about themselves. Or how they’ve discovered this amazing insight they must share with the world immediately.

This is what comedian Kate Berlant skewers in her one-woman show “Kate,” directed by comedian/actor/writer/director Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade), who did his own offbeat one-person show called Inside on Netflix.

Here, Kate establishes the mood by plastering the Pasadena Playhouse with black and white photos of her in thoughtful, perhaps even pained, poses of contemplation. She outfits the theater staff in black t-shirts emblazoned with her first name and sells merchandise of the same simplicity. Just inside the theater, Kate herself sits behind a roped-off area of white, wearing all black, adorned with black sunglasses, looking at her phone while wearing a sign that says “Ignore Me.”

All of this could be taken seriously by those theater elite who think that anything they don’t understand is on the cornerstone of brilliance when, alas, Kate is merely reflecting its ridiculousness back to you.

Once in the theater, the stage is outfitted with a huge LED screen of Kate looking out at the audience or walking back and forth in thought. When the show is about to begin, we get a 5-minute countdown that includes everything from religious imagery to her IMDB page. It’s a narcissist’s fever dream turned into self-promotion in the guise of “something deeper.”

See Also: ‘Theater Camp’ Review: A Hilarious (If not Scarily Accurate) Depiction of Theater Geeks

When the show finally begins, Kate Berlant emerges as a male stagehand, sweeping the floor and addressing the audience in a sort of ‘30s New York accent. He talks of his past, how he came to love the theater, and how he and “Miss Kate” have much in common.

Swiftly, Kate breaks from this caricature (complete with a purposefully not-so-great accent) to speak to the audience as herself, commenting on the cliché she is, herself, utilizing as a way into her story, which is when she shuffles off the character and starts the show on the porch of her home to describe her early childhood. The set is still empty except for the black LED screen projecting the word “Porch” in white.

Hilariously, this is the type of trope often seen in modern, minimalist shows that, again, purport to be about something so profound they don’t need a set. The joke here is that Kate is in on it the whole time, and while you go along with the story she’s created, you can see her raking the sub-genre over the coals. She playfully pulls you into its pretentious knots, then unties them before your very eyes.

Her story, as she tells it, is one of an awkward girl with a desire to be an actress. But since her mother said she didn’t have the face for the big screen, she kept to theater. But it was the camera that kept pulling her in. The only problem was that she wasn’t able to cry. At various auditions, she was asked to do so. It’s her shackle in life, continually haunting her until she can actually find something to cry about. And that one thing might be her secret trauma that she has never revealed before. Something she’s never talked about to anyone. But tonight, she feels it’s time to do so.

Of course, Kate drags this reveal out, and when it’s finally revealed, it’s as anti-traumatic as you’d expect from someone trying to impale the earnest one-person show. And it works hilariously.

Kate’s comedy is a bit specialized and won’t appeal to every audience member. There are a lot of industry jokes that will fly over some people’s heads, and the exact type of theater she is remarking on might not be that familiar to general audiences.

But what she’s created is clever, consistently funny, and a welcome commentary on a well-worn theater genre that looks a bit shoddy. It can also double as a way to mock the current state of social media where everyone has to stand for something, own one or five personal traumas, and feel they need to share all of it with the world.

As directed by Burnham, this is a rollicking journey through one woman’s attempt to follow her dreams, even if she has to muster up a few tears to do it.

Kate” runs through Feb 11th at the Pasadena Playhouse.
For more information and tickets, visit www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

9
Amazing
Written by
Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

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