by Teng Jing Xuan (photos: Geoffrey Lim)
It’s important to remember the second part of Melancholy Play’s title: A Contemporary Farce. If you don’t, Sarah Ruhl’s play becomes an almost unbearable watch, a nonsensical plot lost amidst contrived philosophical ramblings uttered by a main character who is the perfect embodiment of the annoying Manic Pixie Dream-Girl trope. If you remember that the play’s fetishizing of sadness is intentionally ridiculous, you can sit back and enjoy Ruhl’s deftly comical-lyrical dialogue.
Tilly, a bank teller (Cheryl Foo), is beloved and lusted over by Lorenzo, a psychiatrist from ‘an unspecified European country’ (Lim Shien Hian), Frank the tailor (Ziyad Bagharib), Frances the hairdresser (Tang Rei-En) and Joan, a British nurse (Selene Say). They’re all irresistibly attracted to Tilly’s depression, which Ruhl likens to a river in a foreign country which passers-by can’t resist wading into. The attraction fades when Tilly suddenly becomes maniacally happy, and the play ends with people turning into almonds (remember, A Contemporary Farce).
Couch Theatre’s interpretation of Melancholy Play is a laudable first production, especially for a company whose average age is twenty. Aside from a few inconsistent accents, the cast pulls off Ruhl’s difficult script quite well. Tang Rei-En, in particular, shines in her earnest portrayal of Frances, a physicist-turned-hairdresser who loses her sense of smell shortly before turning into an almond. Lim Shien Hian and Ziyad Bagharib share a great moment in a brilliantly choreographed fight scene between Lorenzo and Frank.
The set is cleverly designed. Having hanging windows in a jumble of architectural styles instead of a traditional backdrop means the audience gets the feeling of multiple interiors (the action moves between the psychiatrist’s office, the tailor’s, and a living room) while the space ‘behind’ the set is clearly visible and put to good use as a secondary stage later in the play.
The incidental music is provided by Adrian Schalk, who sits in a corner with his cello throughout the entire duration of the play. Composed by Michael Roth for the original 2002 production of Melancholy Play, the score is whimsical and weirdly dissonant at times – a good match for the script.
Sadly, the production’s very short run is already over. But be sure to keep up with Couch Theatre’s future productions – this is a young company with quite a bit of promise.