I’ll be honest. I went to opening night of “Kate” with a chip on my shoulder. ‘Not another theater keeping the lights on by booking a standup comic,’ said I to said self, having been annoyed at the Taper in October for booking Alex Edelman. Funny guy but dressing his set up with a title does not convert it to theater in my book. (Spoiler alert: Edelman is coming back to the Taper in March). My apologies to Kate Berlant. My grudge was ill placed. She is funny, alright, but her 75-minute piece at the Pasadena Playhouse is much more. She is not merely another standup with a stool and a mike. “Kate” is theater. Visually arresting, dynamically played, and entertaining.
Berlant is an interesting-looking 35-year-old woman. Long and lean, she performs in a simple black tank top and jeans, little makeup, her hair expressively untamed, with a hypermobile body and face. She performs before a stark white backdrop. It is almost as if the screen is a second character on the stage. Words and phrases appear there. She tells us she has had a fascination with cameras since childhood. Often, she plays to the camera at the edge of the stage. At times, words are starkly projected on screen.
Her story is the highly fictionalized tale of her growing up, her supposed fear of appearing on camera, and of the ultimate challenge for an actress, crying on cue and on camera. The camera projects her hypermobile face onto the screen. The facial gymnastics are unbelievable; just try them yourself in a mirror. Berlant is not a dancer, but it is not hard to imagine her having taken that road. Her movement adds to overall graphic quality of the work.
Is she profound? Or is she pretentious? I overheard an audience member mutter on the way out, “Did I love it or hate it? I’m not sure.” Is that quality part of the humor? Could be. A STATEMENT FROM THE ARTIST is displayed in the lobby and in the program. In this she tells us “my body is able to find my space, a space beyond the neutered choreography of everyday life. “As the audience files by she is sitting on a stool with a sign around her neck saying “Ignore Me.” We do before the show, but not during.
That chip on my shoulder? It was nowhere to be seen as I exited the theater. Will buying a ticket change your life? I doubt it, but I do bet that if you do go you will enjoy the performance and images of it will flash into your mind in the days after.