Regional Reviews: San Diego
A bank teller, Tilly (Hannah Logan), is frequently gloomy, off her meds, and doesn't seem to have too many moments of joy in her life. She falls for a tailor named Frank (Patrick Mayuyu), who is attracted to her downbeat personality. Tilly's European therapist Lorenzo (Scott Striegel) and hairdresser Frances (Cristyn Chandler) are also infatuated with Tilly. However, as Tilly starts to feel happy in her life, her relationships with those closest to her begin to change. Frank, for instance, grows distant, and Frances begins to feel unwell. Tilly's upbeat attitude ironically causes a sense of isolation between her and everyone she cares about.
Throughout the show, Ruhl's writing has a unique quality that's hilarious and provides a great deal of insight into the story's idiosyncratic individuals. Characters take part in awkward conversations, monologues, overlapping speeches and even occasionally burst into song. While almost all of the five main characters start off not knowing each other, a series of unusual connections begins to form among them. With the exception of a funny scene in Lorenzo's office between him and two others that relies a little too much on coincidence, Ruhl smartly depicts the different relationships that are formed throughout the plot. Each of the performers presents the unusual material with emotional authenticity.
Logan leads the staging with a mixture of bleakness and compassion. She portrays Tilly's growing love for Frank and Frances with a powerful affection. Performers such as Mayuyu, Chandler, Striegel and Vanessa Dinning as Frances' British nurse girlfriend Joan, all play people whose lives become stranger the more time they spend with Tilly. Even when the story takes a big turn into fantasy territory, they bring a sense of relatability to their parts. While the ensemble helps the audience connect with the characters, Artistic Director Carla Nell and the production team draw them into the unusual depiction of the Illinois setting.
Nell stages events in a style that emphasizes the solitary lives onstage. When characters talk to each other early on, theatregoers get the sense that Tilly and the people she interacts with do not, and cannot, have meaningful social interactions. Complementing Nell's direction, the crewmembers provide audio and visual effects that enhance various sequences. Ron Logan's set mostly consists of window frames that attempt to symbolize how removed the men and women in the story are from other people. Robert Malave's lighting, the use of instrumental music from sound designer Nell, and the music performed by musical director/cellist Dinning creatively portray the unhappiness of the characters in the play.
For all of its eccentricities, Ruhl's writing is refreshingly uncynical, especially toward the conclusion. In a tale dealing with various emotions, the most moving aspect about the plot is the acknowledgement and message of supporting the ones you love in the darkest of times. For example, a brief speech by Tilly about being compassionate is one that resonates with the audience, and will always be relevant and important. What's ironic, though, is that Ruhl's narrative is actually a little lighter than that of some of her more well-known works such as The Clean House and Eurydice. Despite focusing on the sadness in human relationships, the play ultimately presents an optimistic night.
Ruhl's original writing style, coupled with Nell's tight direction, humorously acknowledges how sadness affects us, without the show becoming overly serious, self-indulgent, or ham-fisted. Tilly's odyssey provides for a uniquely entertaining and intelligent experience.
Melancholy Play through November 24, 2018, for InnerMission Productions, at Diversionary Black Box, 4545 Park Blvd, San Diego CA. Performs Sundays through Saturdays at 4545 Park Blvd. Tickets start at $25.00 and can be purchased online at www.innermissionproductions.org or by phone at 619-324-8970.