SummerWorks Review: Melancholy Play [Project Undertow]


Man, this reviewing gig is tough sometimes. How can I write a coherent review of a show when all I want to do is rave about it and call it the best I’ve seen at SummerWorks, at least so far? I think it’s easier to write a detailed review of a show you hated…

So what can I say about Melancholy Play? It centres around a woman named Tillie who is embroiled in a very deep melancholy. The funny thing about it is, during her melancholy she says the most enchanting (and absurd, but that’s part of the reason it’s so funny) things about her sadness and suffering and the world around her that the people around her, both men and women, can’t help but fall in love with her. These people include her psychiatrist, tailor, hairdresser, and a nurse who’s involved with the hairdresser. They all fall for Tillie, but when Tillie suddenly becomes a happy person, their love for her fades and they become miserable.

It’s silly, but it’s a show that has a lot of heart, too, with an understanding of the certain kind of sadness and depression that makes up melancholy. The kind of sadness that leaves one staring out the window in the afternoon, doing nothing more than observing the passage of time, or leads you to see the beauty in another person’s tears and makes you want to keep them forever.

There’s a lot of talk like that in the show (in fact, these two examples are relatively tame and straightforward), and it takes a very skilled cast to deliver those sorts of lines without sounding just ludicrous and totally beyond what a person would actually say. Fortunately, Melancholy Play has just such a cast. Ennis Esmer (Frank) and Pamela Rhae Ferguson (Frances) have a couple of scenes where they speak the same lines in concert without looking at each other, which is a whole lot harder to do than it looks. Anna Hardwick has some memorable lines as Joan. There’s a woman on stage, Cheryl Ockrant, who plays cello throughout the show, giving it some very proper melancholic ambience. Salvatore Antonio is a hoot as Lorenzo, Tillie’s psychiatrist, who speaks with an over the top accent (“I am from a eur-OH-pee-an country”) and keeps bringing up that his mother abandoned him as a child in a candy shop. And both actresses who play Tillie, Ingrid Rae Doucet as melancholy Tillie and Melissa-Jane Shaw as happy Tillie, strike just the right notes.

And if I can be slightly lewd for a moment, I don’t need a play to have several beautiful female cast members with very lovely legs who mostly wear short skirts throughout the show to enjoy it, with two of them in a relationship and living together and spending one scene trying to seduce a third. I don’t NEED that to enjoy a play, but it certainly doesn’t hurt…

Really, though, it’s a wonderfully absurd script by Sarah Ruhl, directed nicely by Rosa Laborde with a superb cast. I laughed the hardest that I’ve laughed all festival throughout, and don’t have a single bad thing to say about Melancholy Play. Sounds like a 5/5 to me.

Melancholy Play has just one show left at SummerWorks: August 15 at 10:30 at Factory Theatre Mainspace. See it if you can.

Posted on by Brian in Everything, Summerworks, Theatre