“Jack Was Kind” — produced by the solo theater company All for One, and available through Oct. 10 on its website — never reaches that level of critical insight. In that sense its content is well matched by its familiar dramaturgical and technological form: Mary merely monologues at the camera on her computer, with little variety of tone or composition. (The director is Nicholas A. Cotz.) That Thorne sustains the story as it drops hints but avoids its punchline is a tribute to her acting skills; the portrait of a woman spectacularly ill-informed about herself is at times devastating.
It might have been even more so had it not been satisfied with easy gestures and straw antagonists. Mary quotes her overwoke, college-age daughter saying things like “Mom, you are so disappointing right now, you know that, don’t you?” as if being married to a monster were a worse sin than being the monster himself. And when the fog of details occasionally clears to reveal what Mary has learned, it’s a small lesson for us, if not for her: Women are doomed to rageful uselessness by the failures of men “going back to the dinosaurs.”
That Mary does not connect this to anything beyond her immediate world is, I came to feel, a missed opportunity, especially now. She is so focused on the way her complicity has interfered with her own comfort and family cohesion that she barely sees how her husband’s behavior has done much worse, and to many more people. Of course, that understanding would be difficult to dramatize in a one-woman play, and Thorne seems more interested in character as something playable than in character as a moral phenomenon.
“Karen, I Said,” is likewise written to its author’s strengths as a performer — Bent is notably excellent at accents and speech patterns — but reaches way past the easy tropes of Karenism and even the easy explanations of it. If “Jack Was Kind” roots around in the gender dynamics that feed the phenomenon, “Karen, I Said” is looking at the various ways people attempt to grow past their privilege, usually failing. Thorne is interested in the fact of white fragility as experienced by women, but Bent is interested in what you do about it.
It’s an important distinction because, ultimately, it doesn’t much matter where the problem of privilege comes from. Dealing with it does. The really withering thing about “Karen, I Said” is its suggestion that “dealing with it” — in Instagram stories, Zoom meetings and perhaps even the theater — is just another way of enjoying it.
Jack Was Kind
Performances live on Zoom, Wednesdays through Saturdays through Oct. 10.
Karen, I Said
Recorded performance soon available on Vimeo.