One of the pleasures of writing criticism is encountering bright new talent. On a search last night (February 11, 2013) I struck it rich. Katie Bland was performing at the Duplex, and Katie is anything but bland. Her show, “Katie Bland: They’re in Love, Where Am I?,” is built around the concept of a single woman trying to find love. That’s well-trodden territory, but Bland puts her own spin on the subject with intelligence, freshness hefty doses of sarcasm and a well-conceived, expertly-tuned performance that sparkles with originality and her effervescent personality.
A key is avoidance of a mere standup routine with her blend of songs—she has a strong, appealing voice—and her well-written foray into the plight of the single woman whose dreams are repeatedly dashed but has to keep hope alive. For starters, her off-stage voice delivers what she calls a contract promising the steps she will take in the future. Once on stage, Bland announces that she is 25, hardly an age that would reflect the wealth of experience projected in her material. But hey, this is New York.
Soon she is belting lyrics like “You can’t enjoy the present if you’ve been living in the past.” The nice thing about Bland is that she projects a wholesome, friendly image, but can underline it with raunchy zingers while still keeping the image intact. She does a routine involving an experience that women in the audience relate to with knowing applause—getting a first waxing in hope of looking appealing to a guy where it counts. After describing the pain in hilariously searing imagery, she delivers her topper: “All that blood, sweat and tears so no man goes down there for six more years.”
Her show, directed by Lisa Moss, speeds along like a musical comedy, not stand-up, with her musical director Andrew Sotomayor at the piano, and two “special guests”, Chris Behmke and Adam King, turning up to help on occasion.
Bland establishes herself as very likable. She has the knack of bonding with those who know what she’s talking and singing about, and turning angst into laughter with the skill of a performer who knows how to give a sudden look or shrug that speaks volumes, all with a good sense of timing. She can be ribald with cheery openness without undercutting the nice gal image.
On the night I attended, she also got away with something that might have come across as corny in other hands, but turned out to be a touch of sentiment that worked in the context of her outlook. Her parents were in attendance and Bland said that what gave her hope was all the years they have been happily married, and told of an incident when they stopped at a convenience store and started dancing upon hearing their favorite song, "Harvest Moon" by Neil Young. Then Bland sang “I’m Still in Love With You.”
But don’t get the idea that her show is overly sentimental. She belts out numbers that tell it like it is in the Manhattan dating world, where the statistics of men and women are against her, and so many of the men are gay. She has one skit in which a guy and gal are in bed, each examining the other who is—or pretending—to be asleep. It amusingly says a lot about the quest for relationships.
Bland’s hour-long show never lets up, and that’s an accomplishment that demonstrates how much fun it is to spend time with Katie Bland, whether she is comically voicing complaints of her generation or finding glimmers of hope. At the Duplex, 61 Christopher Street (at 7th Avenue). Reviewed February 12, 2013.