By Kendra Jones

I had no idea what to expect entering Julia Masli’s Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, and that is exactly where I hope you find yourself too, as you descend into the theater of The SoHo Playhouse. The unexpected is always the most unforgettable.

It’s past 10pm when Julia Masli creeps up the backstage exit door steps, towards the audience. She doesn’t resemble the classic clown–rather an anglerfish with a tiny handbell. A breathy, eery “Ha. Ha. Ha.”

Pause.

Jingle of the handbell.

“Ha. Ha. Ha.”

Pause.

Handbell.

A sequence of “He he’s.” All behind drawn out, and gasping breaths, and the rattle of that handbell.

She holds out the microphone to audience members, prompting them to imitate her sounds. Quickly, tremendous laughter and a sense of comfort fills the room. It gets to the point where everyone but Masli is laughing; we are laughing at each other’s laughter. An entry point of curiosity, horror, and laughter creates intimacy.

Few words are spoken throughout Masli’s performance, but many emotions are felt.

“Problem?”

The microphone, now taped to a bronze leg in place of Masli’s hand, is offered to us.

Our problems are identified, revealed, solved. A clown becomes a compassionate confident.

Body image. Being yourself. Balancing work and living. Pursuing art full time. A student in high school doesn’t want his grades to define who he becomes.

Masli wants to address all of our woes, and while she may only get through a large handful in the next hour, we are all reflecting on our own. The show is driven forward by these audience responses. Masli’s ensuing random acts prompt deep laughter and deep emotion.

A chair is whacked against the floor. Again, again, again. Until each rung and plank of wood is laying splintered center stage.

A man spends half of the performance sitting on the edge of the stage; it is his chair that has been smashed.

Another audience member is asked to leave, three times, after each he returns, hiding under a coat as Masli walks the aisle, shining the light angled off her head.

A sock is lit on fire.

A specimen container of fresh urine is drank.

A man showers on stage.

A woman is given wings and soars above the crowd.

“I just graduated from grad school and I don’t know what to do next…in sculpture.”

Conveniently, there is a broken chair on stage to rebuild. The audience bursts in laughter.

This show is revelatory for all ages. It is a joyous communion, a much-needed evening for New Yorkers.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha is serious, among all the play that transpires. Clowning makes us feel connected. In a society where we struggle with identity and being ourselves, it can be a challenge to unleash vulnerability. From the moment Masli sneaked onstage, we don’t see her juggle or blow up balloons; we see her bring out the human in all of us.

And, I hope you choose an aisle seat, or those prime front rows: key spots to have a leg-held mic offered to you. The best chances to have Masli resolve your problem with a hilarious solution, or the simple, honest truth in as few words as possible. With hope, amid a night of laughter and an audience that embraces you, you too can let go of the shadows weighing you down.

 

Co-directed by Julia Masli and Kim Noble.

CREATIVE TEAM: Alessio Festuccia (Sound Design), Lily Woodford (Lighting Design), Jonny Woolley (Sound Tech), Alice Wedge, Annika Thiems & David Curtis-Ring (Costume Design).

Julia Masli’s Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha is making its U.S. Premiere following sold-out, award-winning, smash hit engagements at Edinburgh Fringe, London’s Soho Theatre and Melbourne Comedy Festival. This limited, four-week NYC engagement will play at The Soho Playhouse until June 8, 2024. Tickets can be purchased here.

The production is approximately 65 minutes; no intermission; an age recommendation of 10+.