By Jean Lowerison | Theater Review
You can count on playwright Sarah Ruhl to overturn convention, pick a fight with tradition and eschew the expected. We know her primarily for her plays about clean houses, cell phones and vibrators.
But before all those, she examined melancholia — an emotional state most of us have been carefully taught to avoid or escape — in 2002’s “Melancholy Play,” a quirky and delightful InnerMission production now playing through Nov. 24 at Diversionary Theatre’s Black Box.
Tilly (Hannah Logan) is melancholy. She enjoys it (“I suffer so well, and so often”), but she visits psychiatrist Lorenzo (Scott Striegel) for help because the bank where she works does not prize melancholy employees.
Oddly enough, other people think differently. Lorenzo, aka Lorenzo the Unfeeling (with a heavy Italian accent), is only one of several characters who will find himself falling in love with Tilly. That’s because in Ruhl’s world, there’s something appealing, even sexy about melancholy.
Tilly decides to get a haircut from former physicist Frances (Cristyn Chandler), and asks if she ever feels melancholy in the afternoon while sweeping up the hair that’s no longer on anyone’s head. Frances also finds Tilly’s melancholia sexy.
“She throws herself onto couches,” she tells housemate and Joan (Vanessa Dinning), a British nurse who may be romantically connected to Frances, though this is not made clear. Joan — possibly jealous — suspiciously suggests that Frances invite Tilly for tea.
When Tilly falls for Frank (Patrick Mayuyu), an accountant turned tailor who will hem a pair of pants for her, the best — and the worst — happens. I’ll leave you to find out what that is.
These five characters whirl around in short scenes, accompanied from time to time by Joan on rather melancholy cello (would you expect anything else?). Dinning, a fine actress, is also is a talented cellist. And, by the way, Joan will find Tilly rather fascinating as well.
Then the play jumps off a cliff and veers into absurdism, when Frances suddenly turns into an almond.
Yes. You read it right.
I’m not sure why Ms. Ruhl thought that necessary, or even desirable, given that the show was (by my lights) burbling along quite nicely. But it’s possible to appreciate it for what it is, which is silly and amusing.
Bravo to InnerMission for another fine production, and to Carla Nell for her tuned-in direction of this fascinating, peculiar piece. She’s found the right cast (Logan is a standout as the embodiment of melancholy) and given them what they need to give us a wild and woolly ride.
InnerMission and Sarah Ruhl have done it again.
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.