Teresa Willis, Mera Kathryn Corlett, Richard McGrew (w/ cello), Tony Prince, & Laura Ellis in Melancholy Play: A Contemporary Farce. Photo courtesy The Liminal Playhouse.


Melancholy Play: A Contemporary Farce

By Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Tad Chitwood

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

As emotions go, melancholy is more ambiguous and subtle than most others. Sad but reflective, even ruminative, it can claim several shades of gray. Playwright Sarah Ruhl has a lot of fun with this notion in this absurdist gem.

Tilly, A bank teller (Mera Kathrym Corlett), is loved by Frank, a tailor (Neil Brewer), Frances, a hairdresser (Laura Ellis), and Lorenzo the Unfeeling, a psychiatrist (Tony Prince). All seem largely defined by the title emotion, and the love their love for Tilly is expressed with some desperation. When Tilly begins experiencing ever-increasing happiness, the others, including Joan, a British nurse (Teresa Willis) and Frances’ partner, who also develops feelings for Tilly, struggle to cope with her extreme positivity.

The play is an absurdist farce: actions connect but rarely make sense, but there is more story and logical relationships than the word absurdist typically suggests. The characters not only embrace their melancholy, they depend on it to a large degree. Tilly’s effervescent joy challenges that indulgence in a way that questions the often-overwrought attitude we adopt with strong emotions.

Ruhl makes use of almonds as a symbolic image, which seems curious until you realize that the Greek word for almond is “amygdala,” which is also the name of the most important organ of emotion in the brain.

This production is very well cast, taking full advantage of Mera Kathryn Corlett’s gift for unbridled exuberance, Neil Brewer’s caustic delivery, and Tony Prince’s gruff Freudian countenance. Laura Ellis is funny and adorable as a pink-pajama clad almond, and Teresa Willis provides more depth than expected as Joan. These are not fully developed characters in any traditional sense, rather people seen only for the qualities necessary for the story: desperation mostly, and, of course, melancholy. Sharp timing and a sure understanding of how to play this dialogue is paramount and this cast knows how to deliver the goods.

Ruhl’s original script calls for an onstage cello player, here managed by Richard McGrew with a few unspoken actions that contribute to the humor. She later adapted it for a string quartet, but the lone cello seems perfect: the deep sound of loneliness and longing. That McGrew plays his own original score is just icing on this sardonic cake.

Melancholy Play: A Contemporary Farce is a strange piece to be sure, but director Tad Chitwood is perfectly suited to bring out the unorthodox satirical humor of such material. It’s a difficult play to love, but the sarcastic, absurdist view of contemporary emotional narcissism will likely force to examine your own relationship history with a more critical eye.

Melancholy Play: A Contemporary Farce

March 24, 25, 26, 28 (industry night), and 31 at 7:30 pm
April 1, 2 at 7:30 pm
April 3 at 2:00 pm

Tickets: $18 in advance, $20 at door

The Liminal Playhouse
At The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40203


KeithKeith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on ARTxFM/WXOX-LP, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.