Review “Melancholy Play” (Piven Theater): Sweet until it gets Nutty

Monday, May 4, 2015 Permalink 0

Chris-Ballou-Lauren-Paril-Stephanie-Stockstill-Emily-Grayson-and-Ryan-Lanning-website-versionPiven Theater presents MELANCHOLY PLAY, A Chamber Musical.

I’ve loved every play I’ve ever seen of Sarah Ruhl’s until now.  I enjoyed the first act immensely.  But then the second act took a nutty turn.

Ruhl’s play starts out like a quirky charmer.  A bank teller named Tilly (played by a radiant Stephanie Stockstill) is melancholy.  Her depression makes her a people magnet. It is true misery loves company.  Because Chris Ballou (Frank) and Ryan Lanning (Lorenzo) want her.  And so do Lauren Paris (Frances) and Emily Grayson (Joan).  Her allure is infectious.  Stockstill commits to Lanning.  And their romance becomes a problem.  She finds her joy and suddenly loses Lanning’s interest.

This premise is sweet.  And it unfolds with whimsy.  A 5 piece orchestra (3 violins, a cello and a piano) is skillfully directed by Aaron Benham. Although the strings are center, Benham is on the side of the stage.  His direction is filmed and viewed by the musicians from a monitor.  The music is beautiful.  And the talented ensemble sing with heartfelt harmonies.  I went into the intermission with a light-heartedness.  Since Stockstill has an Amy Adams’ “Enchanted” quality, I was sure she could get her friends to embrace joy. I was looking for the simplistic solution of a feel good rom-com musical.

So in the second act, when one of the characters turns into an almond, I was perplexed.  Knowing Todd Almond was the composer of the music, the almond focus is even wackier.  I wondered if the second act was hatched by Ruhl and him after too many cocktails.  I just didn’t get it!  The rest of the ensemble decides to help her by becoming almonds??  Or not??  I’m still not sure what happened.

MELANCHOLY PLAY, A Chamber Musical is 50% highly recommended and the other half… not so much.  I’m torn because the first half is so good.  I might suggest skipping the almonds and leaving at intermission.

Running Time:  Ninety-five minutes includes an intermission

At Noyes Art Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston

Written by Sarah Ruhl

Music by Todd Almond

Music directed by Aaron Benham

Directed by Polly Noonan

Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm

Sundays at 2:30pm

Thru June 7th

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