You might not think you would find humor when attending a performance of something called “Melancholy Play.” However, writer Sarah Ruhl managed to do this by portraying a multi-faceted relationship in which sadness draws people together in an unexpected way.
Audience members are first introduced to the main character, Tilly, played by junior Kailea Saplan. Tilly is a lovely but also very melancholy bank teller, en-route to her first work-ordered meeting with a psychiatrist, Lorenzo, played by sophomore Alec Lugo. Lorenzo is an overly-dramatic man from an “unspecified European country” who repeatedly bases much of his own misfortune on the fact that his mother abandoned him on the steps of a candy store at a very young age.
As Tilly opens up to Lorenzo about her battles with the sensation of melancholy, she is able to justify her feelings and show Lorenzo a new perspective on allowing one’s self to be sad. Rather than be turned off by Tilly’s incessant sadness, Lorenzo is quickly charmed by her and professes his love to her.
From here, Tilly goes to get her trousers hemmed by Frank, a shy tailor, played by sophomore Ryan Himes. Frank, too, is swept off his feet by Tilly and her explanation of feeling sadness every time a customer leaves the bank.
But Tilly’s charms are not over here. She then proceeds to get her hair trimmed by Frances, played by sophomore Sierra Miller. Frances is a confident hairdresser who comes to Ohio from New Jersey. Tilly re-affirms to Frances the beauty she sees in the concept of hair salons but then quickly explains why they can too, have a depressing vibe. Of course, by the end of this encounter, Tilly has Frances wrapped around her finger as well.
When Tilly has dinner with Frances and Joan, a nurse sporting a British accent, a love triangle arises, not surprisingly.
Much of the laughter arises in Tilly’s encounters with her various admirers because of the melodramatic dialogue.
“Melancholy in this play is bold, outward, sassy, sexy and unashamed,” explained Ruhl in the play’s program. “It is not introverted.”
“Having said that, actors are encouraged to look out of the window often, climb in and out of windows, throw open balconies, throw themselves on couches,” Ruhl continued.
She went on to explain that each character displays their own sense of melodrama that only comes to the surface after they have been enchanted by Tilly.
Although the audience was given many opportunities to laugh at the overly-dramatic reactions of the characters and their instantaneous mood swings, deeper, less humorous messages still arose in this play.
“There is no judgment in the play about happiness being inferior to sadness or sadness being inferior to happiness,” Ruhl wrote.
Each character in “Melancholy Play” is connected by their own, individual reasons to be sad. Because of that, no character outshined another. All actors effectively overplayed their emotions in their own, unique ways, whether it was freezing mid-gesture, weeping violently in high-pitched sobs, or throwing themselves onto the nearest couch or chair in the manner of a 5-year-old.
In conclusion, do not walk into “Melancholy Play,” holding onto pre-conceived notions of what melancholy truly is, because it is different for every person and for many, this often includes emotional overkill.
Or, in the words of advice that Ruhl gave to the audience, “don’t be afraid of sincere melodrama.”