Things are not necessarily as they appear. In Michael Cruz Kayne’s “Sorry for Your Loss,” a comedy show about grief, that is a prominent theme.
When the producer Kate Navin caught the show last year at Caveat, a comedy theater on the Lower East Side in New York, she knew the instant he displayed a photo of himself with his wife and two children what he wasn’t telling the audience: that this wasn’t the full picture of his family, that it couldn’t be, because one of his three children had died.
“In that moment I felt — I don’t want to use the word ‘seen’ because it can be cliché, but that’s the best word,” Navin said recently at a cafe in Greenwich Village.
Her own family photos work the same way. Her first son, Jack, was 2 years and nine months old when he died in a fire with his grandmother, Navin’s mother-in-law, 10 years ago this August. Ask Navin what Jack was like and she’ll tell you he loved the movie “Cars,” prized raspberries above all foods and was remarkably kind — unusual for a toddler, she knows, having had two more.
“You’d give him a bowl of raspberries and he’d hand them out to everybody in the room first before he’d start eating,” she said. “That was Jack. He was unbelievable.”
Navin was deliberately not going to produce shows about grief when she joined the audiobook company Audible in 2017 to head its theater division.
But when Daniel Goldstein, a writer-director who is a mutual friend of Navin and Kayne, took her to see “Sorry for Your Loss,” thinking that she might have a professional interest in it, he was correct. She thought the embrace of its humor could help other “lost parents,” as she calls them.
The current show at the Minetta Lane Theater, Audible Theater’s Greenwich Village base, is the latest iteration of “Sorry for Your Loss,” with shinier production values than Kayne, a staff writer on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” is accustomed to having at comedy clubs. Here he ponders the mysteries of permanent absence and lingering presence, and pokes at the culture’s deep discomfort with the inevitability of death and loss.
Kayne, who hosts a podcast about grief called “A Good Cry,” performed the first version of “Sorry for Your Loss” not long after a tweet he sent in November 2019, marking the 10th anniversary of the death of his son Fisher, from sepsis at 34 days old.
Kayne had grown tired of not talking about that central fact of his life, which he said in a separate interview had become “the elephant in the room of my whole brain.” After the tweet went viral, he took that conversation to the stage, making a funny autobiographical show that allows sadness in.
“I’m still at a point with it where I am happy to be identified with the story of my son,” Kayne said. “If that means that for a while, or forever, I am Grief Boy, things could be worse. This subject isn’t the only thing I want to contribute to the universe. But if it stopped here, I would feel like I got to say the thing I really wanted to say most of all.”
These were not, by the way, maudlin interviews. But Navin did tear up when she recounted how terrified she had been of grocery shopping after Jack died, because she wouldn’t know what to say if she ran into one of his friends and they asked her where he was.
In the experience that Kayne articulates in the show, she recognized her own surreal isolation.
She wants no one’s pity. But mention a child who died to someone who didn’t know, she said, and the conversation may not recover, because no matter how long ago it happened, people react as if your grief is fresh, and as if you are broken.
“The mood shifts,” she said. “And it’s hard to be the person who caused the mood shift.”
Kayne and Navin would like people to be less awkward about grief, which would let those who need to talk about it stop keeping it to themselves. “Sorry for Your Loss” provides one space for that.
When I asked Kayne if he believes that art can heal, he quoted the W.H. Auden line “poetry makes nothing happen,” which he said he thinks about a lot.
“I do think it’s possible for art to at least make you feel like you are not alone,” he allowed. “It’s so much to know that I’m not the only person who feels this way. If that is healing, which I think it is a little, then yes, I think art can heal people.”
Navin, for her part, is certain that Kayne has changed her in a way that feels good, making her “less sheepish” about telling people that she has three children, and less worried about people’s reaction.
“That’s a huge gift,” she said. “And he just makes me feel less damaged. Truly I feel less damaged than I did a year ago.”