We all know a Karen. That entitled, bossy person who thinks the rules don't apply to them, always asking to talk to the manager. "Karen," a slang term for any woman who fits the above description, has become the butt of countless memes, TikToks, and YouTube videos.
But if your name happens to be Karen, how would that make you feel?
Peter Gray's The Karens, directed by Michael Alvarez and presented by The Muse Collective, feels a bit like a sequel to Mean Girls. Three Karens (as in, three women actually named Karen) formed their own clique in high school and are still besties. Now, they're out to change the meaning of Karen once and for all.
Or at least, that's how the piece--a streamed comedy broken up into Zoom calls, live streams, and influencer-type videos--starts out. And for a while, it runs with this theme to good comedic effect. Karen X makes a video about how Black people should be able to bird-watch in parks without getting yelled at; Karen Y sleeps with her local cafe's manager and steals an entitled Karen's sunglasses; and Karen Zed tries to rebrand all Karens as Focaccias. Then the three meet up and discuss how their efforts haven't accomplished a thing.
So they decide to dismantle white supremacy: an issue tangentially related to the Karens dilemma. Once again, this theme plays out with lots of laughs, never more so than when Karen Zed shares her tips for being anti-racist in a short web series. Well-structured, with running jokes that build off each other, I found this segment the strongest of the piece. Playing Karen Zed, LaurenSage Browning teeters on the brink of emotional collapse as she responds to critical viewer comments about her tips (which include driving a black car and encouraging your relatives to marry both ethnic and sexual minorities--bonus points if they have to sue someone for refusing to make their wedding cake).
But elsewhere, the play feels a little like a Zoom call that no one knows how to end. The focus shifts away from the Karen dilemma, taking up the hazards of extreme political correctness, the inherent fakeness of influencers, and the perils of social media overload. A satire, it also balances precariously between comedy and discomfort. While there's nothing wrong with that, and in fact, it's desirable in satire, I found myself a little fatigued with these topics and would have preferred comedic catharsis that didn't try too hard to make a point at the same time.
That being said, Gray deserves props for his massively funny, Tina Fey-esque script, and Browning warrants applause for her absolutely hilarious portrayal of a highly privileged, well-meaning yet incompetent, gluten-free Yoga instructor. Even if its characters are far from genuine--and keep unintentionally perpetuating the very Karen stereotype they're trying to overcome--The Karens itself is rife with genuine comedy.
The Karens, written by Peter Gray, directed by Michael Alvarez, and presented by The Muse Collective, streams online August 13-27. For more info, see below.