Theater: “School Pictures” and “Sad Boys in Harpy Land” @ Playwrights Horizons
A one-man (or one-woman) show is risky for a performer. If you don’t have a compelling story to tell or a great song to sing, your audience may start contemplating an early exit.
This occurred to me recently after I watched two solos at Playwrights Horizons. There’s a taste of 1980s performance art and Edinburgh Fringe Festival about them, and the result is a mixed bag.
The first, “Sad Boys in Harpy Land” features a young woman named Victoria Tatasky who immediately appears quite crazy. “My mind is a hellscape!” she screams at us in between bouts of nervous laughter and shoveling tin fish into her mouth. She also tells us repeatedly that she has “no material,” that she forgot to write her play and is making it up as she goes along. Noted.
The meager plot point is that Tatrsky has discovered two old German books about two sad German boys: Johann Goethe’s “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship” and Günter Grass’s “The Tin Drum.” The heroes of both books are, in their different ways, strange and stunted—they aspire to make art but perhaps do nothing. Kind of like what is happening in this play.
Midway through the performance, which runs about an hour and change but seems like an eternity, Tatrsky invites the audience members onto stage, whereupon she draws a curtain behind us, strips down to a body suit, bites off the nose of a mannequin, then slices an onion in half and applies the halves to her eyes. Perhaps the worst part of this is that now you are truly trapped on stage and you can’t walk out if you wanted to.
The other solo show is Milo Cramer’s “School Pictures,” his autobiographical tale of his life as an actor who makes his monthly nut by tutoring middle-class NYC students.
Each child has his/her/their own story, which Cramer recounts as he plunks away on a ukekele or plays a toy piano. These sweet little songs about his students last for about 45 minutes, during which mildly amusing portraits of young 12 to 13-year-olds emerge.
While tutoring, Cramer also worked at a coffee shop in Brooklyn where former Mayor de Blasio was a regular. As we learn in the show, while receiving daily one-dollar tips from him, Cramer worried about being spotted by tutoring clients, imagining that more than anything else, those parents probably did not want their children to become Brooklyn baristas.
Your appreciation of “School Pictures” will be greatly enhanced by your understanding of the high price of private education in Manhattan. When Cramer scrawled some numbers on a blackboard, he asked his audience how much 12 years of elite schooling would add up to. Doing some quick math in my head, I called out “$780,000!” Cramer said, “You’re right. Nobody’s ever got that before.” I beamed appreciatively. I may never fully understand the joys of parenthood but I did win the National Math Test in high school. You never know quite where and when it will pay off. Both plays end their run this week.
Like this review? Follow me at “What Does Aug Think?” at acsntn.substack.com. Thank you!