It is 1987 and Trinity, a gnarled-toothed thirteen-year old Goth Girl, will go through almost as many hilarious, overwrought, and absurd trials and adventures as Bell Poitrine in Patrick Dennis's mock-autobiography Little Me experienced in a lifetime -- but with one important difference: Trinity will do it all in one speedy hour. In Darkling, as written and performed by the consummate performance artist, Kim Katzberg, the Trinity character justly earns our sympathy and, through all the hilarity, ultimately grows up.
As demonstrated in her previous work, Penetrating the Space (reviewed herein when it was presented in repertory as part of the Cheerful Insanity show in 2011), Ms. Katzberg in Darkling again transforms herself into various characters. Such a magnitude of skill and theatrical dexterity prompts me to dub her the Meryl Streep of performance artists. In the course of Darkling, as Ms. Katzberg dons the personas of her sharply drawn characters, I found myself in double-think mode: simultaneously assuming another actor was in the show, and yet knowing that all were being embodied by Ms. Katzberg. As Trinity, Ms. Katzberg convincingly assumes the voice, diction, and body language of a suburban girl of thirteen who is not yet out of her "awkward stage."
In the course of this whirlwind of a performance piece we are introduced to: Trinity's mother, who is obsessed with a contactor who overcharged her; Trinity's sister Morgan, who has been sent to a Utah facility for the incorrigible; the voice of Trinity's best friend Melissa; the demonic sales-pitching Lightning Lady, accessible only via a crystal ball; the one-legged female interventionist cop, Officer Goneril Gornel, who tries to "straighten out" both Trinity and Melissa after their arrest; and several others presented both on stage and in brilliant video segments.
I do not want to give away the whole show, which is full of twists, turns, and abundant surprises, but a few highlights must be mentioned. While at a school dance, Trinity leaves temporarily to have sex (for the first time) with a boy named Kevin. It is a scene that is once horrific, hilarious, and sad. Later, Melissa and Trinity take LSD and get in trouble. Thus enters Goneril the interventionist cop, and Trinity ends up stealing Goneril's police car in order to find her sister, who has escaped from Rocky Mountain Academy for bad kids. Trinity drives away exclaiming "I can't believe this, they're chasing me and everything." She makes it to Utah only to learn that her sister has escaped, so she absconds with an inmate named Lacy who overdoses on meth while they are hitchhiking in a car driven by the bizarre oversexed Camaro Woman (and on and on...).
The entire performance piece is infused with verbal and visual whimsy, coupled with driving dramatic force, and Ms. Katzberg is exceptionally skillful at melding such opposites, demonstrating what an authentic artist she is. The end result was that I laughed my guts out through the performance (punctuated with moments of being deeply moved). The success of Darkling is in no small part the result of Raquel Cion's agile direction. Ms. Cion kept the relentless momentum of this often preposterous story line going at full tilt from start to what could be deemed, in an utterly off-beat way, a happy ending.
Maia Cruz Palileo appears in several of the video sequences as Chiara, Trinity's sister's sidekick, and as Trinity's best friend Melissa in the flesh. She adds a touch of the outlandish which fits right in with the high-spirited goings-on.
Marvelously crafted video segments, created by Tei Blow, are interspersed throughout the performance. They melded seamlessly with the live action, sustaining and advancing Darkling's wild energy, hilarity, and poignancy. Josh Iacovelli's inventive lighting contributed to the overall effectiveness of the piece.
With Darkling Kim Katzberg has created yet another fascinating, artistic, and utterly entertaining showpiece, tailor-made for the adventurous theater goer who revels in daringly unique performances -- and in this case, one that could be said to be "beyond the beyond." - Jay Reisberg
[Note: Check with Kim Katzberg's website for future performances of Darkling and other works by her.]
Mr. Reisberg is a UCLA film school grad, professional singer, comedian, and bon vivant at large.