'Sad Boys in Harpy Land' review — a fearless, hilarious exploration of self-loathing

Read our five-star review of Alexandra Tatarsky's Sad Boys in Harpy Land, one of three solo performances running at Playwrights Horizons throughout November.

Kyle Turner
Kyle Turner

At first, the choice between a worse hell — the world outside these doors or the one you make in your mind — is one many probably avoid as much as possible. Must they compete? For clown and performance artist Alexandra Tatarsky, the two options converge in Sad Boys in Harpy Land, tearing at each other’s boundaries like tender flesh and imploding like a hydrogen bomb of hilarious self-loathing, deranged interrogation, and explosively brilliant political satire.

Tatarsky has been working intermittently on an adaptation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, the 1796 novel about a young bourgeois man whose flailing attempt at committing himself to theatremaking coincides with the expansion of the Prussian Empire, resulting in the rich sad boy ultimately doing nothing. Here, Tatarsky presents themself as a court jester for end times, channeling in their lithe body the contradictory forces of desperation and desire, and the terrifying inertness and shame that can swallow the self whole.

Perhaps I’m making this show sound too serious: it isn’t and it is. It is firstly funny in a wild, unburdened way, with Tatarsky splaying themself all over, shoving tinned fish in their mouth, playing around with potatoes and rubber gloves and many a cup of coffee. With their Borscht Belt delivery and rubber face, Tatarsky is fearless, exciting, and unpredictable, leaning on the awkward and unflattering parts of the self and the body to mine both their funniest bits and most profound insights.

Their physicality is nearly second to none, with Tatarsky flouncing around and alternating between making every prop a part of their body or deeply foreign to it. The result is a blistering, brilliant show, relentless in its invention, humor, and inquiry.

But in many ways, the English language is inadequate to describe that brilliance. Sad Boys in Harpy Land is at once the bellowing laugh from the flame-kissed walls of our current hell and a guttural, existential screech that encapsulates the deranged experience of having to live in this world, finding art along the painful path.

Sad Boys in Harpy Land is at Playwrights Horizons through November 26.

Sad Boys in Harpy Land runs on alternating nights with School Pictures and Amusements. Read reviews of all three shows here.

Photo credit: Alexandra Tatarsky in Sad Boys in Harpy Land. (Photo courtesy of production)

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