Hannah Logan (center) stars in "Melancholy Play." Photo by Jim Carmody
There are those, either out of a desire to nurture or out of just plain desire, who find extremely sad people a turn-on. That’s what bank teller Tilly (Hannah Logan) has going for her in Sarah Ruhl’s invitingly peculiar Melancholy Play, being staged by InnerMission Productions. Tilly’s sheer morosity charms, in order: her neurotic shrink Lorenzo (Scott Striegel), a tailor named Frank (Patrick Mayuyu), her hairdresser Frances (Cristyn Chandler), and Frances’ lover, a nurse named Joan (Vanessa Dinning). Ruhl’s characters, all on stage at the same time either interacting or silently standing behind window frames, speak in benumbed profundities to the subject of sadness – as a condition and as an attraction. Then Melancholy Play turns sharply askew, becoming, as the play is described in the addendum to its title, a contemporary farce. When Tilly turns happy (a birthday scene, complete with sing-along, is the show’s manic moment), those around her turn melancholy, Frances to such a degree that she also turns into an almond. An almond, the program notes explain, is the shape of the “gray matter inside each cerebral hemisphere involved with the experiencing of emotions.”
In spite of the determined weight and absurdity of Melancholy Play, the production directed by InnerMission’s Carla Nell is a balm for the anxiety of life at its most hectic, and the nearly slow-motion action of the players is hypnotic. Chiefly Logan’s Tilly. Logan wrings every ounce of emotion from her haunted character, whether succumbing to sobs or earnestly addressing an almond in her hands. The triumph is, she never comes off as nuts.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 11/14/18.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.