The right of all Americans to be down-hearted once in a while is brought up -- and defended -- in a new musical comedy having its premiere at Trinity Rep. Bill Gale says it can have you laughing out loud, and thinking, too.
Sarah Ruhl is a playwright known for her off-beat but well put together plays. “The Clean House,” has a Brazilian maid who cares only to find the perfect joke which then turns to a narrative about being joyful in the face of death and dying. Or in “Dead Man's Cell Phone” Ruhl looks at the societal disconnection brought about by the digital age.
Now with “Melancholy Play,” Sarah Ruhl has outdone herself with a hilarious, sweet and thoughtful romp receiving a gloriously goofy production at Trinity Rep.
Co-written by composer Todd Almond, “Melancholy Play” defends, well, the right of all Americans to be little sad if we they want to be. The 90 minute intermission-less piece proposes that we Yanks are inhibited when it comes to being down in the dumps, as my mother used to put it.
This musical play maintains that our culture increasingly says we all must always be upbeat, hard-driving, on top of the world. That way leads to madness, or, at least, a lack of feeling and cohesion, Ruhl and Almond say.
At Trinity, they have gone all out with their A-list cast. First and foremost is a vibrant, delightful Rachael Warren as Tilly, a bank teller, with the full ability to feel all sorts of melancholic drive, or the lack of it.
With big-eyed boisterousness, Warren frolics from high good humor to downright down-ness. if that's a word. Her Tilly makes lots of friends whom she drives nuts from time to time. It's a sweet and starlting performance.
Among other things, Tilly visits an Italian psychiatrist who turns out to be wackier than she is. Joe Wilson, Jr. plays Lorenzo with wonderful and unrelenting gumba-ism. He's a hoot throughout. Then there's Frank, a tailor done by Charlie Thurston with perfect attention to detail as he courts Tilly even as he pins up her skirt.
Other winning, goofy folks are a boisterous Rebecca Gibel who gave up a career in physics to become a hairdresser and loves it. Mia Ellis is an English nurse with a great all-Brit accent and a wonderful presence.
This melange is directed by Liesl Tommy with snapdragon insight and great pacing. The show is sung sometime opera-like amid all kinds of physicality. But it's also clear, direct, and very funny.
And, oh yes, the music. It's performed by strings and piano led by Andrew Smithson with great accuracy and determination.
Now, truth be told, “Melancholy Play” does slow down a bit three quarters of the way through. But in the end, that's forgotten amid all the music, the hugs, the hand-holding.
Is this “chamber musical “rational.” No, it's not. And some may find it over-slly. But should you be, as I am, drawn to a gleeful kind of jokester-ism, you're going to have a great time at “Melancholy Play. “ You won't be down in the dumps when you leave the theater, in other words.
“Melancholy Play” continues at Trinity Rep through June 28th.
Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.
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