Nothing melancholy about Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play. It’s mostly exuberant. Billed as a contemporary farce, this whimsical fairytale romance for adults with a hint of mystery rolls merrily along in dreamy absurd-ville. What a relief to realize it exhibits none of the pretentious gimmickry of Ruhl’s highly praised and uninteresting domestic device dramedy The Vibrator Play. Beyond inherent verbal resonance and imagery, the two plays live on different planets. I’m thrilled.
Upstart Productions always finds a creative, unique way to enliven the bald warehouse of a space at Claude Albritton’s Green Zone off Industrial Boulevard. In this production, the playing area consists of an open ground space with occasional furniture pieces, instructive signs and rolling window frames crossing it at random and a balcony high above, all tucked into one back corner of the building, The audience sits in an L shape and watches characters emerge down a darkened staircase from the balcony. Lighting ranges from stark to ethereal to awash in shadow. Thank you, Rachel Rouse, Scott Payne and Trey Garrison. It’s a pleasure to visit the murky world you constructed.
Jonathan Taylor designed the sound and clearly relishes directing ephemera of the imagination and has a vaudevillian knack for it. Everybody in his snappy cast gets to go hard for quirkiness and excess. And why not? The play revolves around a woman who turns into an almond (as in Blue Diamond) with charming cannibalistic response from her friends and fans. They don’t need to use method acting to find their motivations.
There’s Tilly the sublimely sad (Natalie Young) with her amore and tailor Frank (Duane Deering) who hates it when she goes all chirpy cheerful. The Lesbian couple Frances, a hairdresser, and Joan, a nurse, (Diana Gonzalez and Lulu Ward) romance Tilly in various emotional states as well as each other. Brian Witkowicz inhabits the moody psychiatrist “Lorenzo the Unfeeling” with the same 2000% absorbed and detailed zest that made him so much fun to watch in Nouveau 47’s Alice.
Upstage an amplified cello bowed by Buffi Jacobs or Vilma Peguero or Bach Norwood adds tactile melancholia to the scenes in a well-integrated manner. No, I’m not going to tell you where almonds fit in.
It’s great fun. The spurts of song and dance, the syncopated interplay of scenes and characters, clip along like hot fizzy soda water ready to explode in a hard shook bottle. Watch out…! Ultimately, the play is a gentle musing on the tenuous state of happiness and love. And the capacity we all have for both. No intermission, no great dramatic depths. In a theater season currently launching with seriously noble and dramatic works, it’s a relief to crack a smile and let happy goose bumps break out all over once the playing commences,
Upstart Theater’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play
runs through February 4, 2012
How to get there: http://www.upstarttheater.com/find-us/
Marc Rouse photos