Call it emotional fitness through humiliation. With her outstanding “101 Humiliating Stories,” Lisa Kron pushes comic self-deprecation somewhere near the high end of solo theater. From the moment she hits the stage running (albeit in slow motion) to re-enact a particularly appalling high school gym-class debasement, Kron ensnares her audience with 90 minutes of hilariously embarrassing anecdotes.
A member of the Five Lesbian Brothers comedy troupe, Kron first presented her stories as part of last season’s Serious Fun Festival at Lincoln Center. The piece makes an easy transfer to the New York Theater Workshop under the clever direction of Kron’s longtime associate John Robert Hoffman.
For a woman unabashed enough to once have billed herself as “a lesbian Lola Falana,” Kron’s self-effacement might seem surprising, but she is no Joan Rivers wannabe, decrying her unattractiveness to men (or women, in Kron’s case). Her humor comes from the angst of life’s daily humiliations, and without ever coming right out and saying it, the power of humor to turn those red-faced defeats into fuel for personal growth.
If that sounds heavy-handed, the fault lies in the description, not with Kron. Her deceptively offhanded way of telling a story carries an easy charm that makes listening to her tales of grade-school trauma and grown-up faux pas utterly pleasant and immensely funny.
Dressed in a blousy, pajama-style ensemble and occasionally stopping to touch up her makeup (her comic obsession with autumn-color facial decoration gives new meaning to the phrase “lipstick lesbian”), Kron uses a wry, amiable style through a litany of embarrassing moments. With just the right touch of hyperbole , she recalls fainting in a busy hallway of her junior high school, saying something stupid to Sigourney Weaver during a photo op, being shamed by overzealous Macy’s saleswomen into spending $ 200 (of her employer’s petty cash) on cosmetics, and years spent trying to live down the childhood mistake of wearing a “Little House on the Prairie” calico dress to school.
The humor, of course, is in the telling, and Kron is a natural storyteller. Her acting talent is on display throughout, particularly when she rehearses different approaches to addressing old high school classmates for an upcoming reunion. Having been asked to perform, she now must explain to her alumni exactly what she does in New York. She tries strident (“I’m a big lesbian”), closeted (“I’m not married, but I do have a roommate”), patronizing and self-pitying. All are nearly as believable as they are funny.
The seemingly unstructured style of Kron’s anecdotes sometimes leaves them feeling abbreviated, as if wanting a punch line, but even that looseness has its charm. With luck, Kron has more humiliations waiting around the corner to share with audiences at a larger venue.