Melancholy Play | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Melancholy Play


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Melancholy Play, Piven Theatre. This long one-act has nothing interesting to say about the social construction of depression. Though Sarah Ruhl is credited (or debited) as the playwright, the script seems the outcome of a weird theater game--"Hey, what if someone who's crazy turns into an almond?" Ruhl strings together epigrams masquerading as dialogue to tell the tale of Tilly, whose anomie enchants everyone around her and whose ultimate happiness alienates them. It's a piquant idea but one that requires a delicate touch. Lacking this, Ruhl seems a stand-up comic who can't decide whom to insult first: depressives, psychotherapists, orphans, people who lose their sense of smell. Apparently she's the one who can't sustain interest in healthy people--as soon as Tilly recovers, the focus shifts to Frances (the usually excellent Amy Warren in a thankless role as a physicist turned hairdresser turned almond).

Director Jessica Thebus either considers the text self-explanatory or despairs of rescuing her actors from its murk; whichever, she lets them do just as they please. The resulting performances appear to be from five different plays even though all the depictions but one are variations on the theme of archness. The exception is Geoff Rice's touching portrayal of Tilly's lover: out of the script's nudges and winks, Rice constructs an actual person battling to separate affectation from genuine emotions, whether his own or others'. Violinist-composer Gregory Hirte is equally genuine, capable, and out of place; his solo concert from backstage is the evening's greatest pleasure.

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