Fringe 2019 – Earth to Karen is Delightfully Down-to-Earth
Karen used to be an astronaut. But after a poor decision that skyrocketed her to infamy, Karen got kicked out of NASA. Now living with her divorced trophy wife sister, Alice, Karen needs to find a new purpose in life.
From the team that brought Disasteroid to the Hollywood Fringe Festival last year, Earth to Karen is another quirky musical-comedy that has characters discovering what is really important in their lives. Karen, on a quest to find where she belongs after making a seriously bad decision, is too smart for her own good – even if she thought it was a good idea to drive across the country in a diaper to kidnap another astronaut out of jealousy. Forever dubbed “the diaper lady,” Karen thinks she’s above it all, scoffing at her one job opportunity of working at Subway. But a burst of inspiration has her driving head-first in a new direction. Will her past and self-doubt hold Karen back from happiness, or will she conquer her demons?
The four-person cast infuses the clever script and songs with wit and heart. Their energy is on point throughout the duration of the 60-minute show, and there’s not a weak link among them. A stand-out in a bit part in Disasteroid, Dagney Kerr gets a chance to shine here as Karen, an underdog who is just trying to protect herself and do what she believes in. Kerr’s performance is engaging; the audience feels sorry for her even while wanting her to step up to the plate and do more for herself. With Kerr’s snappy choreography and solid performance, the show really revolves around her. Rebecca Larsen, as Karen’s sister Alice, is exquisitely dramatic. She drapes herself on her couch, too exhausted from appearing in court for child support to even open the front door. But when push comes to shove, she’s a woman who will put in the work so she never again has to. Matthew Bohrer (completely weird in Disasteroid) now is gosh-darned charming as Chet, Karen’s co-worker at Subway. Always dreaming of something more, but unsure of himself, Bohrer’s Chet is a sweet and lovable nincompoop. Stealing the show, however, is Lauren Van Kurin as Jen, Karen’s boss at Subway, as well as a handful of other characters. Van Kurin brightens the stage every time she appears in one of her various roles (which run the gamut), her voice commands attention, and her cute tap-dancing solo is a highlight.
The mostly empty black box theater has just enough set pieces to easily transition from a NASA spacecraft to Subway to Alice’s living room in front of the live, three-piece band. The simplicity of not only the stage, but of the story and catchy music (which ranges from folksy to a slightly Doo Wop-y), serve the narrative well. In Karen’s attempt to uncomplicate her life, the tunes keep the proceedings upbeat and optimistic. Without the use of mics, however, the actors really need to enunciate and project so that the audience doesn’t miss any of the jokes or lyrics that are important to the story. Having the show end on a small cliffhanger is both frustrating and also appropriate. Karen’s wild life will continue on in the audience’s imagination, and hopefully go in a satisfactory direction.
With Earth to Karen, writer Zachary Bernstein and director Guy Picot have an enormously cute show in the more-than-capable hands of their stellar actors. While it takes a few minutes to understand the narrative, once the show gets going, it never lets up – both in its humor and in its sweetness. Karen is a character the audience can root for, even if she makes questionable decisions and wears an adult diaper. Earth to Karen is a cheeky and charming time at Fringe.