Melancholy Play

REVIEW by Willard Manus

Sarah Ruhl is a playwright with a whimsical but charming bent. Her bittersweet comedy, MELANCHOLY PLAY, produced recently in a West Coast premiere by Echo Theater Company, was centered around Tilly, a daffy but delicious girl from the midwest whose melancholic nature, which she discusses openly and cheerfully, proves irresistible to both men and women alike. If this sounds contradictory, it is consciously that: Ruhl delights in the unlikely, in turning reality upside down and having fun with the resulting mess.

Tilly was played winsomely by Polly Noonan, who brought looks, charm and elan to a role which required her to carry much of the play on her shoulders. Karl Wiedergott's Lorenzo, an outrageous caricature of an Italian psychiatrist, seemed like an escapee from a Moliere play but still managed to make his desire for Tilly palpable. Kristina Lear and Marilyn Dodds Frank were cast as a lesbian couple (a hairdresser and a nurse, respectively) who also go gaga over Tilly, as did Rob Helms as Frank, a bombastic dressmaker.

Ruhl's theme is transformation, the way all these raffish characters change when Tilly is cured of her melancholy (to be more specific would be to give the play away). Some of the things that happen include a woman turning into an almond, a reunion between siblings who were separated at birth, several goofy songs (backed by an onstage cellist, Joseph Mendoes), and much tongue-in-cheek, silent-movie posturing. All of these tricky ingredients were whipped together in high-style fashion by director Chris Fields, backed by Elizabeth Palmer's extravagant costumes and Michael Roth's sprightly music. (At The Hayworth, 643 Carondolet St. Click on or call 800-413-8669)