Featured photo courtesy of Rick Klein.
As defined by Webster’s dictionary, a farce is a comic, dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay, and typically includes 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 she 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 the characters, and invites them to her birthday party. At the birthday party, she suddenly shakes the feeling of melancholy and boldly exclaims 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 remainder 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 tag-teamed in 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.”
I absolutely adored this show. It’s unbelievably funny, as a farce should be, but not in an obvious slap-stick kind of way. The witty dialogue exchange between characters and the over-the-top characterization truly made this show enjoyable. I loved Brianna Woods’ performance, especially how quickly she transitioned from glum and depressed to completely exuberant and bouncing off-the-walls. She truly captured how ridiculous it is that some people romanticize sadness. I also loved how the addition of the clown characters dancing around stage, narrating changes in the script, and interacting with Tilly and her friends enhanced the whimsical features of the show.
Despite the highly improbable situation featured in this show, I still found it extremely relatable. Sometimes we all feel like pre-happy Tilly– we just want to marinate in our sadness and have a pity party, and bring our loved ones down with us. This performance was also relatable because it made me question how far I would go to help one of my friends.
Overall, “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 is running this weekend (Feb. 20-22 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 23 at 2 p.m.) at the Schuster Theatre. Tickets are free with a Gannon ID, and $5 for the general public.