A funny, charming, truly sweet staging of a play that's not melancholy at all
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., Aug. 6, 2010
Austin Playhouse, 3601 S. Congress, 467-0084
Through Aug. 8
Running time: 2 hr.
Tilly is melancholy, and she isn't the only one. So is Lorenzo, a therapist from an unidentified European country who speaks in an unidentifiable European accent. Frank is melancholy as
well, although it doesn't have anything to do with the fact that he is a tailor, and Frances, a hairdresser, is also melancholy, although her lover, Joan, doesn't seem particularly melancholy, although she is somewhat perturbed after Frances falls in love with Tilly. But only somewhat, and she feels better once she falls in love with Tilly as well. Lorenzo also falls in love with Tilly very early on in our story, although Tilly doesn't love him back. Rather, she falls in love with Frank, and he falls in love with her. Until, that is, Tilly unexpectedly finds happiness, which changes everything.
So goes the plot of this Sarah Ruhl play, the second production by the relatively new Palindrome Theatre. Of course, there's more to it than that: a plethora of almonds, for instance, that play a very large role in the second act. And a guitarist, composer Matt Hines, who perches atop the set from the very beginning to the very end of the show and accompanies the performance throughout without ever drawing undue attention to himself (unless, of course, he has to). The play tends toward the absurd, with characters asking questions you would most likely never ask in life and finding themselves in situations you would most certainly never encounter. Director Kate Eminger stages the play with delicate care. There's a sweetness in Ruhl's script that is apparent from the very beginning, and Eminger has managed to get her actors to extend that sweetness into their performances. While some physical violence occurs, it's played entirely for comic effect; for the most part, whenever the characters come into physical contact with one another, the contact is soft, gentle, and kind.
And so are the performances. Each member of the ensemble – Nathan Brockett, Jude Hickey, Bernadette Nason, and Corley Pillsbury – brings a palpable love to his or her individual character, and this is particularly true of Helyn Rain Messenger as Tilly. Messenger plays Tilly's melancholy simply, without undue embellishment, implicitly trusting Ruhl's often poetic, always evocative words to carry Tilly's loneliness and sadness. And Messenger plays Tilly's happiness in exactly the same way, adding not much more than a dose of energy and a winning smile to carry Tilly into an entirely different state of being.
But what is probably most surprising about this very funny, utterly charming, and truly sweet production is that the play, in the end, is not melancholy at all. As I watched the silly goings-on in the second act (any of which I would be quite loath to give away, as the play rockets off in a direction that you would never imagine), the further it went, the more I began to smile, until, at the end, I was quite literally grinning stupidly from ear to ear. For while there is much melancholy in this melancholy play, by the end there is only happiness. And strangely enough, the two have a very similar taste.