Identity politics has been a zeigeist-y topic for a few years now with discussion, particularly amongst the arts and entertainment industries, about notions of representation, appropriation, and authenticity. In Seeking Representation, comedian Natali Caro brings together considerations of identity and celebrity to interrogate boundaries of performer, performance, and audience.
Structured like a sketch comedy show, Seeking Representation rotated through audio sketches in which Caro impersonated Donatella Versace, Jennifer Coolidge, and Judith Lucy, video sketches where Caro recreated reality television icons like Criss Angel and the Real Housewives, a brief foray into a drag king character, and Caro as herself performing stand-up. Throughout the impressions, Caro demonstrated herself as an impressive mimic, particularly when mirroring the unique mannerisms of self-obtuseness and vagueness in her Real Housewives Lynne, Lisa, and Carina. But these impressions additionally fed in to the overall theme of identity with Caro writing in a heckler to accuse Caro of plagiarism in her impression of Jennifer Coolidge leaving a longterm lesbian relationship. Though fleeting and flowing into a less successful Mean Girls reference, the heckler drew on ideas of ownership and originality that underpin the art of impersonation generally but which further leaked into the other characters of Caro’s creation.
Throughout the performance, Caro made repeated use of the distinction between white people and people of colour as well as reference to queer sexuality and mental illness in order to shape the power differentiation operating in her comedy. This was largely successful with Caro garnering ample support from her audience if, at times, the jokes veered into unoriginality, like in a particular series of “things white people do” ie make-out with their dogs, which dragged down the energy in the later half of the performance. Otherwise, the portions of stand-up in Seeking Representation were Caro’s strongest as she has a relaxed, personable performance persona that appeared open and authentic, particularly in discussion of her family.
What set Seeking Representation apart, though, was Caro’s use of meta-referential comedy through scripted hecklers. Ironically, the support from the audience interrupted these interruptions with threats and calls of “shut up” in defence of Caro but, when she was able to push through, these side characters provided the theoretical scaffolding of the show’s concern with identity, performativity, and authenticity. Other than the already mentioned impressions purist, Caro also included a Tinder match who professed his love for her while her subconscious was projected on the back wall in the style of RuPaul’s Drag Race’s contestant interviews and a comedy agent who was immediately impressed by the white man on stage, enough to offer him a contract. Before breaking into a choreographed rumba, the trio blurred the boundaries between reality and performance and re-solidified Caro’s central message of how the stage should be a representation of society with all the many cultures, identities, and experiences that entails.
Caro is an entertaining comedian and Seeking Representation demonstrates an interesting engagement with social and political issues that makes her comedy’s perspective unusual and compelling. An even greater focus on nuance and the possibilities of comedic forms will make Caro an astute and salient voice in the Australian comedy scene.
Seeking Representation ran at the Factory Theatre from April 30th – May 1st as part of the Sydney Comedy Festival
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