* * * (3 Stars)
A “Seriously Joyous” Play
Go ahead. Step out of your comfort zone. This is not your typical proscenium-and-footlights stage show. Even Nigel O’Hearn, Artistic Director for the one-year-old Palindrome Theatre (mostly St. Ed’s U. students or recent grads) admits “Melancholy” is “not a perfect play.” But it is strangely engaging with its choral musical tactic – characters singing and talking in unison — and subtitle messages (“Defense of Melancholy” projected on the back wall. Even Matthew Hines, the Composer/Musical Director who also plays Julian, distracts and draws our attention to his lofty perch with his rotating guitars and record player.
There’s a lot to like here, and not just the familiar Austin Playhouse stage with seating on three sides. The play’s pacing helped by the interchangeable set parts, almost like an on-stage transformer, moving audience from scene-to scene, and the sharply drawn characters and their competitiveness for the sad/happy Tilly, so well portrayed by Helyn Rain Messenger.
What you may discover, as I surprisingly did, is that attractive, melancholy persons exude an enigmatic charisma and magnetism. We are often inexplicably drawn to them; their mysterious sexuality is provoking and empowering, even if neither person knows or understands the root of their mutual affection.
Contemporary Dramatist Sarah Ruhl explores the boundaries of non-traditional theatre with this farce, almost to an absurdist degree. You’ll likely find yourself laughing as other patrons are silent and quizzical as other audience members are chuckling and chortling. That happens when you ambitiously examine the human heart in a quest for collective understanding, which is what Palindrome has so capably done with its second production.
And Sarah has scripted some memorable lines for future recall at the right romantic moments:
- “I look into your eyes and feel I should deposit my pain there.”
- “Happy is like a disease. When you fall in love with someone, you want to tell them sad things.”
- “I’d like to crack you open with a mallet and look inside you.”
- You look a little sad . . . but I like that.”
- “Ever been so melancholy that you want to sit in the palm of your hand for a fortnight . . . .”
- “I’m beautiful when I cry. I don’t get into trouble with policemen when I cry.”
- Maybe my suffering comes from another time, when suffering was sexy.”
I may not be nuts about this play, but I’ll at least contemplate myself as an enquiring “almond.”
Austin (Spicewood) TX USA