Review: Laughing Through Struggles at ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

Julia Masli’s solo clowning show sparkles at SoHo Playhouse.

Julia Masli wrote and stars in Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha at SoHo Playhouse.
(© Austin Ruffer)

It’s hard to know what to expect at Julia Masli’s clowning show, appropriately titled ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. There’s no program and the script is dependent on the audience’s willingness to play along, to bare their souls and maybe parts of their bodies. If you arrive late, Masli might shine her large blue headlamp on you, directing the audience to your disruption. If she approaches you and you mock her or respond incorrectly to her breathy vocalizations, she might bellow a deep-throated NOOOOO. And if you don’t have a problem for her to solve, Masli might just make you leave.

As a clown, Masli is armed with a leg – a bronze prosthesis with a microphone taped to the foot so she can extend it to the audience. Throughout the show, the line between Masli’s outlandish clowning persona and the person before us blurs. She admits to her own struggles with anxiety and insecurities, commiserating with audience members who share what’s on their minds.

Despite her costume, the lighting device on her head that is bent like a witch’s hat, Masli appears down-to-earth in her revelations. She may betray this sentiment with subsequent coyness, a cocked eyebrow or sideways glance that makes the audience howl, but her tactics feel honest.

Julia Masli wrote and stars in Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha at SoHo Playhouse.
(© Austin Ruffer)

“Problem?” Masli creeps up and asks this one-word question in an exaggerated, drawn-out manner, like a creature learning to speak. She implores audience members to tell her their troubles so she may instantly and emphatically solve them. Issues of the heart may lead you to a book of potential suitors in the audience, their phone numbers and romantic preferences spelled out for you (I was briefly frightened to see my own name in large block letters). If you haven’t been sleeping, Masli has a chaise lounge and a guided meditation tape assuring you that all your loved ones will one day die. If she can’t solve your problem herself – an audience member at the show I attended was plagued by the world’s ongoing wars, for example – she might ask ChatGPT for help. Masli wants her audience to know that they’re not alone in their struggles, even the ones that make other people point and laugh.

Audience participation is all but required at this show, which runs just over an hour. Some may bristle at the initial awkwardness of Masli’s questioning, though she is adept at handling detractors. When one man responded to her inquiry of “Problem?” with “This,” Masli guided him onstage and then out a back exit. “You are free!”

Performances of ha ha ha ha ha ha ha will differ each time and may depend in part on how free-flowing the drinks are at SoHo Playhouse’s bar. (One woman admitted that her problem is “the drink,” though it was unclear if she meant alcohol in general or physically holding a drink while talking to Masli.) Few people appeared unamused by the show’s end or unwilling to cheer Masli on as she burned our socks in a cleansing group therapy ritual to rid us of our fears. Though American audiences are not known for their appreciation of clowning, Masli’s show charms New Yorkers not just because of her talent and wit, but because she gives us a platform to do what we do best: Complain.

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