Review: "Pretty Beast": Hear Her Roar

Pretty Beast

Written and performed by Kazu Kusano

Presented by FRIGID New York at The Kraine Theater

85 E 4th St, Manhattan, NYC

February 18-March 1, 2023

Kazu Kusano. Photo by Matt Misisco
The contrast suggested by the title of comedian Kazu Kusano's solo show Pretty Beast, currently part of the 17th annual FRIGID Fringe festival, gestures towards the resistance that she encounters as a woman pursuing a career viewed as insufficiently feminine, especially in her native Japan. When she is younger and a class clown (and also likes, unconventionally, to play sports with the boys), her classmates call her "Otoko-Onna" ("boy-girl"); and when she becomes a party girl at the end of high school, her atypicality frightens away the opposite sex. Her acting teacher tries to force her into his own traditional mold, and recommendations to settle down and behave appropriately for a woman comes from even closer and more hurtful quarters. When Kusano, now based in Los Angeles, moves to the United States to pursue acting, the sexism that she faces is compounded by the only parts available to her being, as she says, ninjas and whores. Of course, racism does not disappear with her switch to comedy, as her early, hilarious mockery of some stereotypical reactions from white audience members shows.

But if "pretty beast" describes Kusano and her embrace of penis jokes over propriety, it equally looks to her mother, a beautiful woman who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when Kusano was born and whose mental illness deeply impacted Kusano as she grew up (including in how her imitation of her favorite comedy show is tied in part ot the fact that the show made her mother laugh) at the same time as it was taboo to discuss it outside of the family. Her father, meanwhile, is gone for long periods for work and includes Kusano in some age-inappropriate activities and conversations when he is home. These circumstances play a large role in Kusano's discovery of a feeling of power in making others laugh, and Pretty Beast skillfully interweaves these various threads together and mixes storytelling with dashes of stand-up in recounting that journey towards comedy-as-superpower. Kusano's jokes are sharp, her impersonations, especially of family members, funny and immersive, and her embodiment of her inner guilt and insecurity as a kind of zombie-like figure effective. Ultimately, Kusano's energetically uproarious story is one of courage, persistence, and self-determination. You don't have to be a comedian, or pretty, to find Pretty Beast relatable; what is important, as Kusano reminds us, is that, whether we admit it or not, all of us are fucked up.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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