I’m Sorry: How an Apologist Became an Activist
To differentiate them from book reports, solo shows by necessity tend to focus on the autobiographical. That makes critiquing them a bit tricky. There’s the danger of accidentally passing judgment on an individual’s life and choices rather than assessing the way they express them. When the solo artist is also showcasing her activism, as the incredibly funny Katya Lidsky does in "I’m Sorry: How An Apologist Became An Activist," the danger doubles. Does any criticism count as a point for the other side, whether you’d like it to or not? "Mark Twain Tonight!" and "The Belle of Amherst" this is not.
Then again, northeastern belle Emily Dickinson must have had her causes, and I’ve always liked to think she had a knack with impressions as well as self-deprecation.
Katya Lidsky, fluent in both, comes onstage straight from your favorite cartoon. With elastic features, contortionist limbs and a vocal register wide as a condor’s wingspan, her natural gifts are pasted together with swabs of vivid imagination and sheer exuberance. But as fun as she is to watch, and she really is, Lidsky doesn’t fully make her case before her allotted 70 minutes have passed.
The show’s premise asserts that she was an abject misfit and people pleaser before being liberated by animal rights activism. The only thing is that in her pre-conversion phase, Lidsky comes off as an extremely pleasant person, with a quick wit, unassuming manner and ready ability to hold a conversation. She also had a happy marriage, close-knit family and a personal trainer that, yes, was probably flirting with her.
I’m happy to report that none of the above seems to have been sacrificed since she became an activist. Not sure where things stand with the personal trainer, but I have no doubt she can always find another one.
Lidsky lacked direction, had a lousy job, an eating disorder and two pretty sisters. Evidently these laid the groundwork for a feeling of emptiness and awkwardness that led her to decide that finding a calling was the only way to fill the void. As a devoted pet owner, it was pretty easy to attach a cause to her epiphany. And most of the trajectory that follows is great fun to behold.
As she hews an ever more militant path towards making the world a safer place for animals (and always with a tickling naivete and affectionate lampooning of her comrades), she ultimately encounters the Animal Liberation Front (A.L.F.). I don’t think it is a slur to call this organization notorious, as they have cultivated an "any means necessary" reputation built on arson and other violence. PETA might as well be running a barbecue joint compared to this level of extremism, or commitment, however one chooses to define the terrain this far out.
But Lidsky makes her way to their website and it is at this point that audiences should brace themselves for some disturbing images of animal suffering. It’s something of an irony for a show that advocates freeing God’s creatures from captivity to treat its audience as a captive one, even if just for a couple minutes. But that’s essentially what it does. It’s as if someone on the street with a megaphone and grisly poster took a tactic from "A Clockwork Orange." And it has an alienating effect that works against both artist and activist. After all, it’s a little harder to appreciate someone’s company when they have just tried to upset you. Is this what Betty White would have done?
One thing it does is prove how much more powerful the theatre can be than television. Whether you like sitting there or not, there is no channel to change.
Though the laughs trickle off after the A.L.F. slideshow, Lidsky is deft enough to win most of them back again when she wants them. That’s no small feat, and is a testament to her comic chops.
And as a testament to her integrity, she not only refuses to dodge an opposing view, she also personalizes it. When Lidsky’s father informs her the medications that keep him alive were tested on animals, her philosophy hits a brick wall and she has no easy solution. But by then the play is winding down and she has little time to formulate one. The audience is left in the dark about how she has squared this circle, and that is a bit disappointing.
But overall, Katya Lidsky offers us a righteous indignation that won’t require a wholesale referendum on your moral choices up to now. You know there will always be one topic she will work in to every conversation, but that wouldn’t keep you for stopping to chat. For at least a little bit.
Just make an excuse when she puts on the home movies.
"I’m Sorry: How An Apologist Became An Activist" runs through August 26 at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette Street in Manhattan as part of the 16th annual NY International Fringe Festival. For tickets and info call 866-468-7619 or visit www.imsorrytheshow.com.