Pictured: Rachael Soglin, Stephanie Sullivan, and Alys Dickerson. Photo by Anna Gelman.
By Tonika Todorova
The most appropriate pitter-patter of rain drops accompanied the opening night of MELANCHOLY PLAY, the current offering from Organic Theater Company. One can say that it almost makes you yearn for the melancholy that is promised in the title of the production. Yet, as you walk out the door, there is a regrettable feeling that melancholy is simply just the butt of some joke.
The production has the right elements: a talented cast, fluid transitions, a wonderful live cello accompaniment by Michaela Voit…but unfortunately they don’t come together to deliver a poignant message. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for the Director’s Note in the program that also offers a few of playwright Sarah Ruhl’s words, you would question why Organic Theater chose this show as part of their season, let alone as the season opener. There is an appreciation and desire for productions such as this one that don’t take themselves too seriously (especially in a town saturated with so-called Chicago grit theatre), but this experience ends up feeling like an overly-extended comedy sketch. Adding to the disconnect is an opening night audience made up of supportive friends and family who often laugh at moments that don’t quite earn it and a lighting design doing more damage than good as actors often dip in and out of dark spots. Positive mentions go out to a lovely costume choice by designer Julane Sullivan for Tilly’s butterfly dress giving a sense of the transformation that is to come and a rather hilarious stage combat scene by fight choreographer Bryan Wakefiled.
As this play explores grander themes of existence, it often mentions words from different cultures that explain an exact feeling of melancholy that English often fails to define. For example, in Portuguese, “a nostalgic longing to be near again something or someone who is distant, or that has been loved and then lost” is called “suadade.” The Japanese describe “a profound awareness of the universe that triggers a deep emotional response” as “yugen.” The Greeks combine the words “zeno” and “mnemosyne” to explore “how one can move from one location to another if he must use ever-shrinking steps?” in the perfectly cromulent word “zenosyne” describing the sense that time keeps going faster as we age. This production, leaves you with a lack of “duende.”
“Melancholy Play” runs through April 14. For more information visit organictheater.org.