A farce, as defined by Webster’s dictionary, is a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations.
Sarah Ruhl’s “The Melancholy Play,” directed by Alaina Manchester, is no exception to this definition.
“The Melancholy Play” opens with Tilly – played by Brianna Woods – meeting with her therapist Lorenzo – played by Michael Haas. Tilly talks about her feelings of intense nostalgia and sadness. As Tilly talks, Lorenzo, usually fairly stolid, finds himself falling in love with her. After Tilly leaves Lorenzo’s office, she meets Frank, a tailor.
Tilly also charms him with her alluring sadness and Frank – played by Zak Westfall – is smitten with her. Next, Tilly encounters Frances, a physicist-turned-hairdresser – played by Natalie Pertz. The two share a conversation about their lives and emotions and Frances goes home to tell her partner Joan – played by Lauren Loop about their encounter.
Tilly befriends all of the characters and invites them to her birthday party. At the birthday party, Tilly suddenly shakes the feeling of melancholy and boldly exclaims that she is feeling happy. The other characters, unsure of what to do, realize they quickly lose their interest in Tilly once she becomes happy.
The rest of the play explores the relationship between Tilly and her friends, and the strange happenings that occur when one of the characters, Frances, is feeling extremely melancholy.
This play features its fair share of buffoonery and horseplay, especially when the clown-like characters of Arlecchio – played by Alexandra Mihai – and Tartaglia – played by Tom Barton – narrate important changes during the show. The play incorporates a comical fight scene in which Arlecchio and Tartaglia are tag-teamed into a fight between Lorenzo and Frank.
Additionally, the play features a variety of musical numbers composed by Leah Johnson, which add a whimsical feel to the performance. This play exemplifies crude characterization including an unfeeling therapist, a melodramatic heroine and even a pair of long-lost siblings.
Regarding the improbable situation, I won’t divulge its secret, but merely state that it occurs when someone is “feeling so small that they want to curl up in a ball and lay in the palm of their lover’s hand.”
This show is absolutely adorable. It’s unbelievably funny, as a farce should be, but not in an obvious slapstick kind of way. The witty dialogue exchange between characters and the over-the-top characterization truly make this show enjoyable.
Woods quickly transitions from glum and depressed to completely exuberant and bouncing off the walls. She truly captures how ridiculous it is that some people romanticize sadness.
The addition of the clown characters enhances the whimsicalness of the show by dancing around stage, narrating changes in the script and interacting with Tilly and her friends.
Despite the highly improbable plot twist featured in this show, it’s extremely relatable. Sometimes we all feel like pre-happy Tilly: we just want to marinate in our sadness, have a pity party and bring our loved ones down with us. This performance is also relatable because it questions how far one would go to help out a friend.
In conclusion, “The Melancholy Play” is a unique show that leaves the audience with not only a strange craving for almonds, but also a craving for friendship.
The show will run at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Schuster Theatre. Tickets are free with a Gannon ID.
MARY KATE CARROLL
(Review originally appeared in Edge magazine)by