Everyone has a humiliating story or two to tell, and some unlucky individuals such as Lisa Kron have (according to her figures) 101. Number 4: Lansing, Michigan, 1975--young girl boards school bus and feels a sharp tug at her hair, thinks it's the bully, but then quickly and painfully discovers her hair is actually caught in the merciless grip of the bus's doors. Number 12: Manhattan, mid-'80s--same young girl, though older, wiser, and out as a lesbian now, saunters through the midtown law office she's temping for, chats it up with the lawyers and secretaries, blissfully upbeat, until a fellow word-processor lets her know that the back of her skirt is tucked into her tights.
Throw in uncomfortable gym-induced wedgies, bumbling exchanges with celebrities, a provincial midwestern upbringing, a suspicious sanitary napkin ("about the size of a Depends undergarment"), and you have the raw and sometimes hilariously raunchy narrative materials of Kron's 101 Humiliating Stories, a solo comedic performance in the A.R.T.'s Fall Festival '95.
Unfortunately, Kron's so-called humiliating and embarrassing anecdotes aren't really all that humiliating and embarrassing. If you're going to base an entire performance on agonizing moments, then they had better be totally outrageous. This is clearly where Kron falls short. But we forgive poor, put-upon Lisa, admire her candor and laugh easily because it's nice to hear about crap happening to other people once in a while.
The show's gems are those instances of extreme behavior which powerfully telegraph Kron's peculiarities, such as that memorable workday when she decides to come out at work via an inter-office memo. Or better yet, when she gets sucked into buying a truckload of Prescriptives cosmetics by a very heavily made-up saleswoman who has what Kron calls the Shroud of Turin effect going on--then pays for the cosmetics with the office's petty cash supply. An expensive and traumatic four-hour lunch break just to find out she's an autumn.
The Lansing-Everett High class of '79 reunion is, of course, a major source of worry, fraught with opportunities for humiliation. Should she tell her former classmates she's gay? That she performed with an all-female troop called the Five Lesbian Brothers? Should she introduce her lover as "the roommate?" Poignancy begins to enter the picture here as we witness the refreshing triumph of the once sheepish, small-town schoolgirl, released from the purgatory of junior high, who now, as an aggressive, honorary New Yorker can face an audience of classmates and proclaim: "I'm a lesbian! I'm a lesbian! I'M A LESBIAN!"
Like any good soloist, Kron makes effective use of the stage. She literally throws her weight around--knocking down podiums, attempting what appears to be a combination somersault-cartwheel. At one point she spontaneously begins dancing to a disco tune only she can hear. She goes out on her limbs to earn a rapport with the audience--definitely a good thing even if it's a bit like the creepy connection you might develop with the exhibits at a not-so-freaky freakshow.
Solo shows are a dangerous business. They imply that one individual can carry the stage and the audience, that another actor on stage would be a frivolous waste. Kron rises to the challenge, while cynically admitting, "Maybe I use being a lesbian as a crutch." Not so much a crutch, her sexual orientation becomes, as the stories progress, a gimmick which loses its potency, as does her performance as a whole.
Kron's standup doesn't launch a thousand ships of raucous laughter, but it does send off a fleet of mirthful and giggling little paper boats--enough humiliation for a lifetime.