MELANCHOLY PLAY by Sarah Ruhl (The Empty Room). At the Collective Space (221 Sterling, unit 5). Runs to February 8. $15-$23. empty-room.com. See Continuing. Rating: NNN
Sarah Ruhl subtitles Melancholy Play a farce her blend of comedy and depression is an unusual one.
Its central character, Tilly (Eva Barrie), a bank teller who’s being treated for melancholy by her therapist, Lorenzo (Patric Masurkevitch), can’t shake her feelings of sadness. Still, that doesn’t stop the four other characters from falling in love with her: Lorenzo a tailor named Frank (Courtenay Stevens) and a lesbian couple, Frances (Rose Napoli) and Joan (Suzanne Roberts Smith).
The relationships move in a seesaw fashion. When Tilly is melancholy and admits she hates happy people, the quartet is excitedly, sometimes giddily, drawn to her when her mood improves and her wardrobe becomes more colourful, they fall into their own types of despair.
The whimsical play, in which children are deserted at birth and people turn into nuts, requires a lightness of touch that director Jeffrey Pufahl doesn’t always bring to the material. The physical posturing he assigns the actors is often unnecessarily fussy.
The best scenes involve Napoli and Smith, who play all sorts of levels, from humorous to deadly serious, that define the vibrant, unpredictable Frances/Joan relationship. Their flirting with Tilly and vying for her favour give a lift to Barrie’s performance, especially at the afternoon tea party where Tilly meets Joan.
Stevens has some good moments, too, notably in a scene where Frank reminisces about the sister he hasn’t seen in years. Just as importantly, the tailor’s passion for Tilly has just the right balance of silliness and intensity.
One of the production’s highlights is the design, which gives the action a suitably Alice In Wonderland unreality. Set and costume designer Karyn McCallum dresses the characters mostly in whites and neutrals and defines their world with empty window and picture frames, allowing them to peer or reach into other parts of the action, as if eavesdropping or looking for help. Mikael Kangas lights the all-white set with a range of vibrant colours that reflect the characters’ moods.
Michael Roth‘s score, played onstage by cellist Cory Latkovich, also nicely captures the characters’ moods.