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THEATER REVIEW : 'Humiliating Stories' Told Humorously


In Lisa Kron's deft solo, "101 Humiliating Stories," at Highways, a sanitary pad lies stranded in a junior high school corridor, and the girl who dropped it tries valiantly to disown it. Cooties cause a wave of thousands of passers-by to part like the Red Sea, as our heroine recoils.

Flash forward, and the girl's a woman, sent on a work errand to pick up petty cash from the bank. On the way back, she's sidetracked into Macy's. And when the makeup counter won't take Visa, she plops down the office dough.

Later at another job, our lady of the faux pas strolls past co-workers, unaware that her skirt is stuck in her tights.

Whoopsie . We're in the land of the dreaded Awkward Moment. And, while it's not a friendly place for the doofs and dorks of the world, it's terrain that the slyly dissembling Kron farms with rare virtuosity.

After all, what's a Big Lesbian to do when she's got to face her 10th annual high school class reunion in Lansing? Four versions of what Kron imagines she might have said--ranging from stridently out of the closet to sheepishly apologetic--punctuate this autobiographical solo, but they're the tamest parts of an often raucous ride.

Weaving together themes of sexual identity, social convention and anti-nostalgia, "101 Humiliating Stories" is a hoot with a point. Journey with Kron through her 1975 gym class, three "geeky celebrity encounters" or "the Laura Ingalls Wilder debacle," for instance, and you'll hear familiar tales of self-consciousness tinged with social critique.

A paper chain of personal anecdotes that's both astutely written and skillfully performed, Kron's solo combines the belly laughs of comedy with the poignancy of better solo performance. Because she's not confined to stand-up's punch-line pace, she can draw a story out for dramatic effect, demonstrating that humor and depth needn't be mutually exclusive.

This is the woman you want to be next to at a cocktail party when you need someone else to do the chatting. She's wry but she's also a mensch. "I know the high school segments can be resonant," says Kron, temporarily interrupting her harrowing accounts of green polyester gym suits and "nerdy blue knee highs." "So, um, I'm gonna check in periodically . . . and make sure everybody's OK . . . If you have feelings that come up . . . ."

The writing is economical without being too spare, and Kron takes her time delivering it. That, combined with her relaxed stage persona, creates a casual fluency rarely matched in this genre. The sure-footed show may feel as though it's off the cuff, but you suspect that every "um" or "uh" is scripted.

Kron, who's part of the comedy group the Five Lesbian Brothers, is also a master of the on-purpose accident. Although she plays clumsy, she has a knack for physical comedy. When she nods off, drops her notes or careens into the music stand, you actually wonder for a nanosecond whether the boo-boos are bona fide or not.

Only her junior high gym teacher knows for sure.

* "101 Humiliating Stories," Highways, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica . Friday-Saturday, 8:30 p.m. & 10:30, Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Ends Sunday. $12-$15. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

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