Tilly (Jennifer Roehm) is feeling a little blue — and she’s wallowing in her melancholy. Her employer, a bank, has sent her to a shrink, the self-proclaimed Lorenzo the Unfeeling (William Selnick), who falls in love with her. As does Frank (Peter York), her tailor, and Frances (Lisa DeRoberts), her hairdresser. And when Frances’s lover, Joan (Nina Yarbrough), a nurse from England, meets Tilly — she’s overwhelmed, too.
But then Tilly becomes happy. That throws everyone into a funk. They yearn for her to return to her former self, but that’s not to be. Frank has collected the tears she once shed; he and Lorenzo wrestle comically over the vial containing them. Joan snatches it, takes it home and Frances drinks them. But she soon disappears — leaving nothing but an almond.
If all this sounds hopelessly silly, well, it is. But Melancholy Play (subtitled “A Contemporary Farce”) is a script by Sarah Ruhl, whose plays are full of fanciful storytelling. Local audiences loved her 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist The Clean House (a Playhouse production in 2006), as well as Dead Man’s Cell Phone (ETC in 2009) and Eurydice (at Know Theatre in 2009). Melancholy Play was her very first work, staged in 2001 at Brown University, the year she earned her M.F.A. there. It’s a perfect fit for the acting intern company at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, where Cincinnati theater professional Regina Pugh has deftly staged them in this delightfully poetic, whimsical tale that’s full of humor and emotion, the latter of which is explored from unexpected angles.
The sprightly Roehm is well suited to Tilly’s role, able to be aloof and mournful as well as spunky and cute. Selnick plays Lorenzo grandly, with a cheesy Italian accent and a surfeit of big emotions. York keeps the very subdued Frank in that state while delivering several discourses on the causes of melancholy, and DeRoberts and Yarbrough make Frances and Joan believable but with the right level of quick-change emotion called for by Ruhl’s twisting, turning script.
Randy Nashleanas, a CCM cellist, provides accompaniment (melancholic, of course) and Brian c. Mehring’s platform set (re-used from 25 The Musical) is backed with a wall of old windows and antique lamps — setting a nostalgic and melancholic ambience.
Some might argue that Melancholy Play is more traditional theater than most Fringe shows, but its off-kilter humor and unexpected characters fit perfectly from my point of view. It’s a short run: The final performance is Sunday at 7 p.m.