By Melissa Dognazzi
It is, and always has been, an issue to confront one’s own identity at some point in their life. Some people question their happiness. Others debacle over life itself – or lack of it. A few, in the case of Trinity Repertory’s 51st season, are determined to find out if they are indeed an almond. That’s right – the search for existential meaning is presented in Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play: A Chamber Musical.
With a small venue and five-musician chamber, this production is stranger and livelier than your average show. The performance features Tilly, a melancholic bank teller who, amongst her companions, finds happiness in a whirlwind of odd interactions with those around her. Within her experiences of emotional identity, including her search to find her hairdresser friend who has seemingly turned into an almond, Tilly discovers the truth underneath the shell – what it means to be yourself.
An edgy, tongue-in-cheek playwright, Sarah Ruhl is constantly toying with the concept of identity. By articulating real life experiences that can be enacted in a staged format, she generates a greater message unable to be relayed otherwise. Melancholy Play contends with the emotional distresses of life: the purpose of longing, sadness and happiness that evokes the backdrop of our day-to-day.
When handling a play on the border of mythological ideology and realism, it becomes tricky to indicate whether an almond is only a hidden metaphor, or whether maybe you really are an almond. The five-piece cast of Melancholy, however, does it marvelously, delivering performances as characters most will find they relate to.
Actress Rachael Warren (Tilly) notably imitates her character’s melancholic transformation, enveloping the audience in her spontaneous aurora. The emotional convulsions from all are natural, and the humor is organic. Ruhl’s multi-cultural references and truths are also captured perfectly in conjunction with the universality of the message.
The cast manipulates the language of the play to their fullest ability. Brevity is key in Ruhl’s writing in understanding one’s existence – this play is a succinct exploration of feeling. It is the acknowledgment of people’s emotional existence, and the ways in which they interact with and affect one another.
The set also echoes the overall message of the play; the classic Greek oil painting and the faded birthday streamers play well on Ruhl’s twist on contemporary classics.
Woven into the original script to create this chamber musical are the talents of composer Todd Almond. The choice of not only musical notation, but also of ensemble and vocal arrangement is perfectly arranged to suit the transitions in the play. Overall, the aesthetic is brilliantly constructed.
With the contemporary approach to classic ideas via humor, the play confirms the timelessness of the heavy ideas brought to theatre, as seen on Trinity Rep’s stage. Melancholy Play: a chamber musical illustrates the struggle of existence: understanding one’s identity. “Suffering is a brand of citizenship,” actress Rachael Warren spoke. We may not all be almonds, but we all certainly feel like we’re trapped inside one, sometimes.