This Melancholy Play is also twee as hell | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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This Melancholy Play is also twee as hell

Sarah Ruhl’s contemporary farce crosses the line from self-awareness to self-parody.


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Playwright Sarah Ruhl is on the record as not loving the words "quirky" or "whimsical" applied to her brand of reflective, heady, poetic quasi-comedy. I can't imagine she loves the adjective "twee" either, and yet there's no getting around how prominently it hangs over the arty, wry proceedings of this frequently staged 2002 "contemporary farce," which originally debuted at Evanston's Piven Theatre.

Tilly (Alys Dickerson), a chronically melancholy bank teller, is sent by her employer to a wacky, unspecified Euro-accented psychotherapist (Martin Diaz-Valdes) to treat her aloof, not-quite-depressed condition. Her contemplative, sexy-sad way of meandering through life proves to be irresistibly alluring to everyone around her including her therapist, tailor (Kris Downing), hairdresser (Rachael Soglin), and partnered new friend (Stephanie Sullivan). To their collective horror, she somehow discovers manic, unrelenting bliss, and the gang of potential suitors set out to "correct" her newfound alienating happiness.

Director Laura Sturm's production for Organic Theater Company features live, somber mood-setting cello music by Michaela Voit and some legitimately laugh-out-loud dialogue, particularly between Dickerson and Soglin. During exchanges in which Tilly's version of small talk wears down and hypnotizes a bystander for the first time, notably in a great, show-defining haircut scene, the actors showcase the sharp, hyperspecific comedic impulse Ruhl's play seems to be aiming for.

But the sketch-length highlights aren't enough to sustain an otherwise droll-to-the-point-of-boring comedy, which more often than not luxuriates in the same character tropes and gaudy, lyrical prose it's supposedly poking fun at. An entire final-act subplot of sad people transforming into almonds blurs the line between self-awareness and self-parody to the point where it is rendered indistinguishable.   v

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