Women have really been getting screwed over from the beginning.
That was one of my takeaways from #SoSadSoSexy, presented by Tapestry Collective at The Tank. Written and created by Emily Cordes, Alison Leaf, and Kendra Augustin, and directed by Simha Toledano, this devised play follows two alternating timelines—one past and one present—of two women driven almost insane by a society that wants them to be pretty and submissive at the expense of their own personality and ambitions. But while it does highlight the fetishization of women, ultimately, it's about drawing on our collective strength as women to forge a better, freer way forward.
Izzy, a former beauty pageant star, is admitted to the hospital after attempting suicide. While there, she happens upon the memoirs of Lucy Prescott, a post-impressionist painter who was raped by her professor, then committed to an asylum. While Izzy shares her experience on Instagram, Lucy becomes the unwilling star of her doctor’s public hypnosis shows. Both women struggle to break free of oppressive societies and tell their stories using their own voice, not the voice men have projected onto them.
While the production itself could use a little tightening and polishing, #SoSadSoSexy is a thoughtful exploration of what happens when women are objectified: both then and now. Uma Paranjpe as Lucy and Jes Davis as Izzy give compelling, sympathetic performances, and it’s easy to feel frustrated at the way they are repeatedly treated by so-called “respectable” men. Lucy’s story is especially gripping as it turns from bad to worse, but Izzy’s story brings a necessary modern perspective and helps to show that many of the horrible things Lucy faced are still happening today, albeit in a slightly different form.
For example, the followers Izzy courts on Instagram, whom, as she says several times, just care about the spectacle, not her, parallel the unwanted male attention of Lucy's time, and her objectification as a beautiful mental patient. The people who come to watch her at the asylum couldn't care less about her--like Izzy's followers, they're just there for the spectacle. Part of the journey toward healing for both women is learning to use their platforms for self-liberation. In a way, this play is about using that objectification to gain the upper hand, then flip the tables.
With strong female relationships, a few surprises, and a bit of balancing comedy, #SoSadSoSexy is both entertaining and effective. It's a forceful narrative that shines a much-needed spotlight on mental health issues, the dangers of social media, and the toxicity of the white male gaze. As such, it's bound to resonate, especially with women (I left the theatre with my feminism raging). After all, while we've come a long way since the days when men could lock their wives up in insane asylums for unladylike behavior, we're not out of the woods just yet.
#SoSadSoSexy plays Thursday, March 24 & Saturday, March 26, 2022 at 7:00 PM EST, in-person at The Tank (312 W 36th St, 1st Floor, New York, NY, 10018) & live-streamed online via CyberTank. For more info, see the link below: