KATE BERLANT at JFL42 at the Garrison, September 23, 11 pm. More shows until September 24. Rating: NNNN
Don’t be surprised if you’re initially disoriented by Kate Berlant‘s JFL42 act. It’s not exactly stand-up or improv or even a meta show about putting on a show. But at the same time it’s all of these things, filtered through a unique, self-aware and brilliant lens.
Berlant’s onstage persona is that of a self-assured thespian who’s completely deluded about her abilities. Early on, she asks audience members to shout out emotions for her to physicalize – fear! jealousy! elation! – and she doesn’t go the obvious route. No, that would be crass and predictable. Instead, she takes the emotions further, internalizing them so she’s just a blank. Oh, and she’s above learning Shakespeare, too.
What Berlant’s doing goes beyond comedy and into something more like performance art. In a way she’s the perfect act for the age of entitlement, the selfie era. She strikes poses, angles her face just so, and has a quick comeback for any possible criticism.
There’s lots of absurdity in the L.A.-based artist’s improvised, stream-of-consciousness rants – at one point she has a screed about the invention of radio – but running beneath her performance are intriguing themes about women’s anger and restricted options.
And although the show suffers from a lack of momentum at the midway point, Berlant concludes with an impromptu display of her psychic abilities. Her self-absorbed interactions with audience members are genuinely funny. She gets so deep into her character’s smug discoveries and pats on the back that you end up believing them.
They’re not fake. And neither is Berlant’s original talent.
Berlant performs September 24, 9 pm, at the Royal