Kate Berlant Stays in Tune With Begged-For Facials and Fleetwood Mac


A microsuede voice pipes in with a familiar prompt: Take this time to settle into your seat. Chatter in the room has quieted, lights dimmed, sitz bones rooted into cushioned chairs. A meditation of a sort has begun, only the collective attention is not directed inward (oceanic breathing, relaxed jaws) but rather onstage. There, the object of the evening’s 90-minute study is the irrepressible Kate Berlant, whose one-woman show Kate gleefully unravels the form, overlaying self-confessional tropes, performance anxiety, and a clown academy’s worth of facial gymnastics. A lip quivers, then slides into an elastic frown; her gaze toggles between hazy seduction and an antic cross-eyed flicker, which summons the usual silent-film-star associations. It’s especially fitting, given that there’s a camera positioned stage right, throwing a real-time, black-and-white projection onto the back wall of New York’s Connelly Theater. This face, looming and pliant and poreless, has not been yoked into submission.

“There are nights where there are certain expressions I hold for such a long time that my cheeks burn,” Berlant, a Santa Monica native, says from a friend’s loaner apartment on the Lower East Side. (Kate, in an extended run under director Bo Burnham, is up through February 10.) “I just really never want to inject my face as long as I live. The white-knuckle grip on youth—I think I just can’t commit to a life of that.” The 35-year-old makes a good point, with a face that has been put to colorful use in Don’t Worry Darling, the recent A League of Their Own reboot, and, why not, Madonna’s tour announcement video; Berlant’s comedy special, Cinnamon in the Wind, also landed last fall. “I swear to God, I gua sha’d a line off my face,” she says reverently, pledging allegiance to the low-tech Chinese beauty ritual. But for her, lasting interventions would be a kind of “spiritual robbery.” The marks of the past make good material—even if filtered through her brand of self-aware artifice. 

“I think it’s going to be very exotic to have wrinkles, to age.” It’s a forecast you might expect from someone whose stand-up sets include dubious displays of psychic powers, and who co-hosts the podcast Poog—a wink at Goop—with Jacqueline Novak (she also has a don’t-miss one-woman show). The wellness beat has its perks, as the two make clear at the top of each episode: This is our naked desire for free products. Berlant, notably without an understudy, has leaned in. She talks about the IV vitamin drips that have perked her up (“Maybe it’s placebo, who the hell knows”) and a particularly transcendent massage, gifted by one of her producers. “The massage therapist was just like, ‘You’re holding onto something for dear life in your hips.’ I think she’s right!” Berlant pauses, as if doing a mid-meditation body scan. “Guess what? I didn’t realize this until saying it out loud, but the pain stopped. She actually made it go away.” But the truest gift has been the permission to be herself. “I mean, I’m a hedonist. Last night I had a really fun dinner with a friend at Corner Bar—champagne and truffle pasta—and then today I’m going to try to just not speak and have broth,” she says. “The great thing about this show is that it allows me to feel like I’ve earned the decadence of doing almost nothing all day.”

Monday, January 16

9:15 a.m.: Wake up after nine hours’ sleep. When doing the show, sleep is my priority. Nine hours is what I try to hit; eight is like five for me. This week I’m staying at the Ludlow, which is a short walk to the theater. It’s perfect: The rooms are super tiny, but they’re very well appointed, I like to say. When checking into a hotel, I’m always like, “Can I have a high floor, away from the elevator, with a bathtub, please?” But let’s just say, at my tier there are no bathtubs.

Today I have the day off. I’ve decided to commit to no social media for three days, after a couple months of not looking at all, basically. It’s hard to resist. Probably the best thing I can do for myself, more than anything, is just not be on my phone.

9:30 a.m.: The first thing I do upon waking is spray my face with any essence. Jacqueline Novak turned me onto this and now I can’t live without an essence. My current one is this Josh Rosebrook Hydrating Accelerator. I also want to shout out Fend because I do that every day. It’s a mist inhalation thing that’s, in theory, supposed to minimize the chance of breathing in viruses.

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