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Antic Reality or Grim Fiction?

Lisa Kron says the audience should know that the stories in her new '2.5 Minute Ride' are true.

September 22, 1996|Jan Breslauer | Jan Breslauer is a regular contributor to Calendar

Scheduled for an interview in California last week, Lisa Kron is instead stuck in bed in New York, felled by food poisoning.

It figures. Things like this just seem to happen to her.

There was, for instance, the time she was working as an office temporary and couldn't stop herself from plunking down $200 of the office's petty cash for makeup at Macy's. Or the time she was parading around at work, unaware that her skirt was caught in her tights.

Mistress of the couldn't you just die? moment, Kron takes these mortifying memories as grist for her solo performances. And although an inopportune bout with an indelicate ailment could be yet another setup from her best-known work, "101 Humiliating Stories," this one isn't.

She does not, after all, have time to be sick. Her latest solo, "2.5 Minute Ride," premieres at the La Jolla Playhouse next Sunday.

A sarcastically self-dubbed "big lesbian" whose way with a whoopsie belies the social critique at the heart of her work, Kron has always interwoven the antic with the earnest. And her newest autobiographical work is no exception.

In an anecdotal format that jumps back and forth between ostensibly unrelated story lines, "2.5 Minute Ride" explores Kron's relationship with her own family history.

At first blush, the funny part would seem to be the tales about Kron's life growing up as a Jewish girl in the Midwest--and in particular an annual family trek to Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. And the serious side would be Kron's recollections of a trip she took abroad with her Holocaust survivor father.

But in Kron's solos, as in life, all is not as it at first seems. And good and evil don't always stay obediently in their putative places.

"What strikes people always is the juxtaposition between the Holocaust and the Midwest, the funny and the tragic, and how they start to intermingle," says the 35-year-old Kron, speaking from her New York sickbed.

"It's a much deeper show than I've ever done, a much bigger show in terms of its subject," she says. "I'm struggling to make my personality large enough to handle it. It's a huge emotional leap."

As with many of the best in her business, Kron, who is also a member of the Bessie- and Obie-winning performance group the Five Lesbian Brothers, leaves the audience wondering where the line between fiction and reality falls. In "101 Humiliating Stories," for instance, she added a good deal of artful embellishment.

In the solo performance, seen at Highways in Santa Monica in 1994, Kron jumped back and forth between fantasies of how she might address a high school reunion with presumably true tales from her recent and not-so-recent past.

But in "2.5 Minute Ride," which will also be seen at UCLA in May, the writer-performerpositions herself in a somewhat different relationship to veracity.

"In this show, it's important that the stories are really true and that the audience understands that they're true," Kron says.

That, in turn, has affected her creative process:

"Unlike my other shows, in which the writing was difficult and the performance was fun, with this piece the writing was easy, but I had some difficulty memorizing it. I can't perform it the same way I did '101,' which had a whimsical quality."

The unifying factor, however, is her ability to find irony in both funny and difficult situations. "I developed my sense of humor as a tool," Kron says. "I still use that, but there are also parts of this show that aren't funny and that are emotionally connected in ways that I'm not used to dealing with on a regular basis."

That emotional connection is the direct result of coming to terms with her father's past.

"I've always wanted to write about his experiences," Kron says of her father, a German-born Jew who was evacuated from Europe in 1937 as part of the Kinder-transport project, an Allied effort to evacuate children from Nazi Germany.

Kron tried to write a show on this topic once before, to no avail. That changed when she accompanied her father on a visit to Europe six years ago.

They toured Germany, to which, she says, her father remains very attached, and also visited the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp, where her paternal grandparents are thought to have died.

Not surprisingly, the journey had quite an effect on Kron.

"After the trip, somehow I was ready to write about it," she says. "It gave me something to hang onto. It was my emotional core in a way."

Kron also found a new, more concrete understanding of what had previously existed in a mythologized realm for her.

"I've always had the feeling that the events of my father's life were so huge and so much bigger than anything that could ever happen to me," she says. "It was the most important thing that could have happened to me, but of course it didn't happen to me."

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