In Peter Gray’s archly comic The Karens, three girlfriends, Karen X, Karen Y and Karen Zed reunite on Zoom to complain about the regrettable transformation of their good name ‘Karen’ into a disparaging adjective for an overly entitled white woman (see Wikipedia for the full ‘Karen’ meme).
Karen X: the de facto leader (read bully) of the three, Karen X is a self-designated, “critically-acknowledged life coach” and attention-seeking black beauty.
Karen Y: a sometimes clueless, Latinx airhead, Karen Y tries to keep up with the other Karens while nursing liberally on her umbrellaed mojitos.
Karen Zed: on a blonde and perpetually misguided ambition tour, Karen Zed, née Karen Z (she changed her name during her gap year in England) is forever scrambling to make up for always being the white girl.
As Karen X, Morgan Danielle Day is a force of nature. She exudes power and glamour between every joust and jab with her gal pals. Her comic timing is as polished and razor sharp as her nails.
Felicia Santiago is a delight as the cheerfully optimistic, perpetually bubbly party girl Karen Y. As an actress, she believes every ridiculous thing Karen Y says and subtly plays a vulnerable insecurity underneath.
LaurenSage Browning channels the vapid, WASP-y, privileged and entitled Karen Zed with a doe-eyed, concerned interest that is genuinely and diversely funny. She is hysterical even when she’s not speaking.
These “Karens” are their own version of the “Plastics.” They talk in hashtags and boast of a sincerity that it seems impossible for them to ever really know. They produce ridiculous social media campaigns yet consider themselves important influencers. They call each other bitches, hos or hunties (honey + cunty), and are the antithesis of supportive girlfriends. When Karen X declares “Being a Karen should mean something!”, there is no evidence that these young women have a single redeeming quality that could possibly rescue their good name from its current demise.
Peter Gray’s script skewers just about every aspect of social media and political correctness possible. It is filled with many funny and pointed lines, so many that it takes almost an hour and a half for all these digs to be delivered, and by that time, these Karens have been painted as such deeply superficial, hyperbolical and meaningless stereotypes that the viewer can barely muster any care or concern to know what happens to them next. If this play had been produced in an actual theater it is likely some audience members would not have come back after intermission.
Fortunately, good things come to those who wait, even after an hour and a half. The play suddenly takes a turn when Karen X has a breakdown behind a dumpster at Whole Foods. Karen X may have been talking about her complexion in the opening scene when she tells Karen Y that “black don’t crack,” but in this scene it is her core that is cracked open, when she realizes her life is as empty and pointless as she’s always feared. “#influence me, please?,” she begs of God, as flies buzz around her head. It is a brilliant scene, and Day is brilliant in it.
From that moment forward there is a profound shift in the play and in its characters. Karen X’s self-discovery starts to thaw the other two Karens, prompting them to also seek their true inner voices and values. All the actors truly shine when pulling out more depth of character. It takes way too long to get there, but it’s worth it in the end.
The sound design by John Millerd gets a “meh” for some occasional dropped words and a limited higher volume. Director Michael Alvarez could have helped matters by making sure the actors better enunciated some of their more rapid-fire lines. His contribution is more evident as the play deepens and the actors finally have the opportunity to bring more richness to their roles. Alvarez’s costumes are spot on, capturing each Karen in their own unique way, saying much about their personalities.
In the end, these young women learn that authenticity rules; imperfection is OK; trying counts. If you’ve got the time and patience, see The Karens.
The Karens (through August 27, 2021)
The Muse Collective
For tickets, call visit http://www.the-muse-collective.com/
Running time: 100 minutes without an intermission