I will admit, with the hip-hype surrounding the phrase ‘Why are you like an almond?’, I was expecting Melancholy Play not to meet the expectations that it had set up for itself. Sarah Ruhl’s melancholy melodrama is a difficult play to navigate, with a script that’s demanding of its actors’ emotional timing and range. However, Josh Feldman, a first-year in his KTS directorial debut, manages to navigate Ruhl’s complicated script with little fault and delivers an unexpectedly humorous and charming piece of theatre.
Melancholy Play follows the life of Tilly, a chronic melancholic, and her interactions with individuals who, more often than not, fall in love with her. Played by Simone Hogeveen, Tilly’s wistful demeanor and attraction entice both the audience and the other characters. Tilly could easily be a flat, whimsical character, lacking any real substance, but Hogeveen fully embraces melodrama to accentuate Tilly’s deep sense of self.
Thomas Jestin, as Lorenzo, is the perfect misplaced European. Jestin is a comedic force, especially as the lovesick therapist who ends up self-medicating to get over his attraction to Tilly. However, he sometimes overdoes the melodrama, and his mixed accent muffles many of his hilarious lines. Tilly’s true love, Frank, played by Matt Buckman, is a stoic tailor who delights in Tilly’s melancholia and is suddenly not attracted to her once she is overcome with happiness. Buckman brings subtle grace and emotion to the role: his interactions with Hogeveen are earnest, and his paired monologues with Justine Christensen, as Frances, are well executed.
Christensen, a newcomer to the KTS, subtly conveys an array of emotions through her interaction with other characters and her incredible transformation at the climax of the play (no spoilers, I promise). Playing opposite Frances’ melancholia and obsession with Tilly, is her partner, Maddie Harper’s Joan. Harper does well with the role and especially delights the audience with her enthusiasm for duck-duck-goose; Joan’s problems are entirely script-based, as her character doesn’t quite seem to fit with the rest of the play’s melodramatic characters.
One of the most stunning and effective components of Melancholy Play was the musical accompaniment by Eliza Niemi on the cello. The cello’s inherent melancholic tones accentuated the more melodramatic moments of the play. Niemi brought a fullness to the production with music that drew the audience further into Tilly’s story.
Benjamin Singbeil’s simple set design leant itself to eased transitions from scene-to-scene, and the floating window frames were provocative and effective in design. Lights, by the trifecta of Dylan Tate-Howarth, Alex Bryant and John Maize, and Josh Fraser’s sound design completed the production’s scenes. Clarice Diebold and Genevieve Nickle designed simple and well-suited make-up and costumes, respectively. The only technical distraction was green masking tape on the floor, where black duct tape may have been an easy fix.
The answer to “Why are you like an almond?” is still unknown, but congratulations to Mr. Feldman on a fine inaugural production.
Melancholy Play runs Friday, Mar. 21 and Saturday, Mar. 22 at 8 p.m. in the Pit. Reservations are sold out each night, so be sure to arrive early to get in line for rush tickets.