Theater Review: KATE (Pasadena Playhouse)

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by Michael M. Landman-Karny on January 22, 2024

in Theater-Los Angeles


In the often-unpredictable world of theatrical comedy, Kate Berlant‘s Kate promised to be a groundbreaking foray into the realm of absurdist humor. Yet, in its execution, the show — which opened last night at the Pasadena Playhouse — treads a precarious line between pioneering artistry and sheer incomprehensibility.

The opening scene sets a peculiar tone: a 10-minute black-and-white montage of Berlant herself, leading into her appearance on stage. Initially portraying a character named Larry, a stage-sweeper, Berlant then transitions to her own persona, dressed plainly in black against a stark white screen. Director Bo Burnham‘s choice of minimalistic set design, while bold, unfortunately veers towards visual sterility, failing to either captivate or complement the 75-minute performance.

Berlant’s narrative weaves through her life journey, from her move to New York at 18 to her acting experiences, with a recurring motif of her “big secret”, her inability to cry on command. This theme, meant to satirize the culture of celebrity tell-alls, regrettably devolves into a self-indulgent tangent that meanders without direction.

A staple in stand-up comedy, Berlant’s wit and delivery are usually her strong suits. However, in Kate, these elements are inconsistent, oscillating unpredictably between a deadpan tone and an overly animated demeanor. This inconsistency undermines the cohesiveness of her performance, and her endeavors to merge existential angst with humor fall short of the mark. The humor, intended to be thought-provoking, instead alienates, lacking the incisive punchlines for which Berlant is known.

The structural framework of the show is equally problematic. Its apparent ambition to present a non-linear narrative results in a disjointed and confusing progression, leaving the audience struggling to engage with the storyline. Moments of audience interaction, rather than feeling integrated into the performance, come across as disjointed attempts to regain lost connection.

Despite these shortcomings, there are brief instances where Berlant’s natural charisma and talent manage to pierce through the overwhelming confusion of metaphors and partial thoughts. These moments, however, are fleeting and ultimately get lost in the show’s overall lack of clarity and direction.

Kate serves as a stark reminder of the delicate balance required in avant-garde comedy — a balance between the bizarre and the relatable, the innovative and the coherent. Regrettably, Berlant’s show leans too far into unintelligibility, leaving this critic more perplexed than entertained. One hopes that this experience will be a stepping stone for the talented comedienne, guiding her back to a more commercial and accessible performance style of which she is certainly capable.

photos by Jeff Lorch

Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena
ends on November 26, 2023
for tickets (starting at $35-$117), call 626.356.7529 or visit Pasadena Playhouse

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