Find­ing the joy in ‘Melan­choly’

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN360BETS - By Claire Cana­van

Bizarre things tend to hap­pen in Sarah Ruhl’s plays.

Long-lost twins sep­a­rated at birth are re­united. Peo­ple drink vials of tears. A hair­dresser turns into an al­mond. (Yes, you read that right.)

Ruhl, who re­cently won a pres­ti­gious MacArthur Fel­low­ship, is known for cre­at­ing vi­brant, sur­pris­ing worlds that have a unique brand of logic.

Palin­drome The­atre brings the whim­si­cal world of Ruhl’s “Melan­choly Play” to life in a charm­ing pro­duc­tion di­rected by Kate Eminger.

In “Melan­choly Play,” Tilly (a sweetly off­beat He­lyn Rain Mes­sen­ger) is a bank teller who is al­ways sad. The sound of the rain makes her sad, as does trimmed hair ly­ing on the floor of a sa­lon. When she goes to talk with her ther­a­pist Lorenzo (a very funny Jude Hickey), who speaks in an uniden­ti­fi­able Euro­pean ac­cent, he falls in love with her sexy sad­ness.

And so does ev­ery­one else in the play — a tai­lor named Frank (Nathan Brock­ett), a hair­dresser named Frances (Cor­ley Pills­bury) and Frances’s part­ner Joan (Ber­nadette Na­son). Ev­ery­one falls for Tilly be­cause she re­minds them of their own un­felt emo­tions. Or as Joan puts it, “She gives me a sexy, sad feel­ing, like I’m in a Euro­pean city be­fore the war.”

Even­tu­ally, sur­rounded by all of this love and af­fec­tion, Tilly be­comes happy. This dra­matic change does not please her suit­ors, who fell in love with her par­tic­u­lar brand of ro­man­tic melan­choly. From here on, the play takes some sur­real turns.

Palin­drome The­atre’s pro­duc­tion feels in­ti­mate and fresh, and the cast brings good comic tim­ing and bright en­ergy to the in- creas­ingly ab­surd com­edy. Evoca­tive orig­i­nal mu­sic by Matt Hines un­der­scores the ac­tion.

As funny as it is, “Melan­choly Play” seems to be ar­gu­ing that Amer­i­cans have lost touch with a cer­tain kind of con­tem­pla­tive sad­ness. Peo­ple prac­tice pos­i­tive think­ing and plas­ter on smiles as they at­tempt to cover up un­der­ly­ing melan­choly.

Per­haps, Ruhl seems to sug­gest, there is beauty in spend­ing an af­ter­noon gaz­ing out the win­dow at the pour­ing rain, feel­ing sad. On the other hand, the play’s even­tual em­brace of joy sug­gests that it’s OK to give in to hap­pi­ness, too. ‘Melan­choly Play’ con­tin­ues 8 p.m. Thurs­days-­Satur­days, 5 p.m. Sun­days through Aug. 8. Austin Play­house, Penn Field, 3601 S. Congress Ave. $20 gen­eral ad­mis­sion, $15 stu­dents, se­niors.

Colin Biggs

Nathan Brock­ett, left, and Jude Hickey star in Sarah Ruhl’s ‘Melan­choly Play.’

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