Playwright Sarah Ruhl, still in her 30s, is a favorite of the "edgy" theater companies around here. But why? Her plays are witless and obtuse, hardly worth producing, much less paying to see. Melancholy Play, one of her early works (from 2001), is on view now at Upstart Productions at The Green Zone. Yawn.
It's subtitled "A Contemporary Farce," but there's nothing farcical in it. Farce implies comedy and Melancholy Play, from its title to its characters to its morbid fascination with people turning into salted nuts (that's a big part of the plot, no lie), is a definite downer.
Like Ruhl's other works, which include Dead Man's Cell Phone, In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) and Eurydice, Melancholy Play pretends to be highfalutin dramatic lit. But it ain't. It's sloppy, unpolished and absurd. With live cello playing.
Here's the flow of what occurs onstage: A girl named Tilly (played at Upstart by the lovely Natalie Young) tells her Italian therapist, Lorenzo the Unfeeling (Brian Witkowicz), that she's sad. He falls in love with her. She tells her hairdresser (Diana Gonzalez) that she's sad. The hair lady falls in love with Tilly, too, as does the hairdresser's lesbian lover, a nurse named Joan (Lulu Ward). A tailor (Duane Deering) likewise is smitten with the depressed Tilly.
All the adoration lifts Tilly's mood. If everyone is sad, she's happy, skipping around the stage holding a red balloon. At one point, the gang plays the children's game "Duck, Duck, Goose" and some mild Sapphic cuddling ensues. There is also some screaming and singing. (The onstage cellists are Polyphonic Spree's Buffi Jacobs and Hockaday School music teacher Vilma Peguero, alternating performances.)
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One of the characters turns into a salted almond, which rests on a pretty satin pillow. The characters wish they, too, were salted nuts.
And if you're at this theater for this play, you'll start fantasizing about a bowl of salted nuts sitting on a bar next to the beer you wish you were drinking at that moment.
Melancholy Play continues through February 4 at The Green Zone. Call 214-321-0121 or reserve through http://www.upstarttheater.com/.