Cheerful Insanity: Chao and Katzberg in Repertory, now playing at HERE, is an effective study in contrasting metatheatricality. However, the two works being presented Kim Katzberg’s Penetrating the Space and Tom X Chao’s Callous Cad are very different: the former is funny while the latter is not.
Penetrating the Space concerns Jinny Jikkyl (played by Katzberg), an actress who splits her time between rehearsing for an autobiographical solo piece that examines her incest-riddled childhood and composing a demo tape in hopes of booking a Gas-X commercial. Along the way, we are introduced to suicide prevention hotline operator/burnout Terry, the manically enthusiastic wolf girl, and a lesbian lighting technician with the hots for Jinny, all of whom are also expertly played by the writer.
Katzberg’s humor comes from a decidedly visceral place: Jinny Jikkly expresses her interest in infusing the theater space with the authentic smell of her own vagina. All the while, Jinny recites the refrain, “I have to get industry to this show,” expressing her misguided hope that, through her raw and “in-your-face” performance, she will land an agent. Katzberg is acutely aware of the strange contradictions in the theater world and she milks them to great effect, adding to an already hilarious physical performance.
Ultimately, Penetrating the Space also thrives on a series false epiphanies: Wolf girl decides to become a pro-dominatrix because she has “fat thighs” and Jinny decides to become a lesbian (“for now”) as a way to cope with her discomfort with men.
Far less successful, Callous Cad is a tedious examination of the author’s disappointment following the consummation of his first and only relationship with a woman. Chao is visited by a magical being (Charlotte Pines) who arrives under the auspices of Cupid to celebrate his first time in love, only to find a lonely man. The magical being sets out to find out exactly why Chao feels so unfulfilled.
Various friends with ironic vintage facial hair appear via projection to offer their input, but to no avail. We never do discover the true source of Chao’s ennui, although one suspects it might derive from a general dislike of everything from standup comedians to the band Radiohead.
Of course, Chao is insistent that we know he is in on the joke with us. One of his earliest lines is, “Even though the relationship with the girl I just met isn’t that great, I’m going to write a play about it.” He also informs us that, “Having sex has zapped my creativity!” Being aware of this fact doesn’t make his play any less tiresome however.
For her part, however, Pines does a fine job with substandard material. A highpoint in the show comes when she plays various types of international women in whom Chao might be interested. Unfortunately, she’s not enough to justify watching this play.