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