This is going to be short, it’s going to be sweet, and because it’s difficult to review Kate Berlant’s new solo show without giving anything away, it’s going to be to the point: Kate is really fucking good.
The second you walk through the front doors of the Connelly Theater on East 4th, you’re submerged inside the bizarre and pompous imagination of Kate-Berlant-as-Kate. It takes a lot to surprise an audience just once. Kate kept me surprised, in awe, and in stitches, for the entire 80-ish minutes.
The show contains a secret, needless Irish accents, hidden decals, sand, Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner, utensils, a destruction of the fourth wall, videos!, graphic design!, dance!, sarcastic philosophical questions that actually had me thinking “wait…,” and the proclamation, “A night at that theater can change your life.” Kate Berlant means that ironically, but Kate doesn’t. Before the show, I would have equally scoffed at it. But now…well, here I am, writing about how goddamn incredible this show was.
Except the show, directed by Bo Burnham, is less of a show of a show and more of a fully-immersive theater experience—four words I would never want to use to describe anything, let alone anything written, created, and directed by comedians. But but there’s no other way to articulate what Berlant has done. Kate is an emotional, hilarious, all-encompassing tumble into a weirdly compelling world that should feel insufferable and way too meta. But it doesn’t!
I’ve been a fan of Berlant’s comedy for years, but have only seen it in short form. Standup, character specials, her tweets when she was still tweeting. I had zero idea what to expect from a show named for nothing else but her first name. Her recent special with John Early, Would It Kill You to Laugh, was fantastic, but again, just sketches and characters. Was Berlant going to play one character the entire time?
The answer: No. And yes.
If you know Berlant’s comedy, the character of Kate—a self-aggrandizing egotist who embodies all the worst tropes about coming to New York City to chase your dreams—will feel familiar. But heightened and refined. Kate has traces of Denise St. Roy from Berlant’s episode on Netflix’s The Characters, and pieces from Kate Berlant, the lifestyle coach, and Kate Berlant Teaches, a bunch of Comedy Central shorts where she instructs how to tell time, sit in a chair, and wash a dish, as well as attitudes and mannerisms from nearly everything she’s ever done with Early.
There’s a YouTube video of Berlant from eight years ago with under 10,000 views that I feel a bit unhinged for referencing here, but whatever. In it, she drops into a random restaurant for a quick set to an audience of unassuming customers. “It’s so hard being here, immediately you guys look at me and it’s like, she has it all,” she says. “I, sort of, was forced into comedy early because of my bone structure.” That’s Kate.
If all of Berlant’s past characters have an Olympic gold medal, then Kate is the “McKayla Maroney on vault at the 2012 Olympics” gold medal. It’s watching an artist (ugh, eyeroll) at the top of their game. And it’s fucking thrilling.