This play is nuts.
Melancholy Play by Sarah Ruhl, Kingswood Oxford’s Baird English Symposium author who will visit the school in December, is a challenging, avant-garde work that requires the audience to suspend common sense and free-fall into a world where people transform into almonds. Yes, almonds - those tasty morsels packed with protein.
The story pivots around the main character, “Tilly” (Mary Kaliszewski ’21) whose melancholy nature charms and seduces those around her: her hairdresser (“Frances,” Morgan Siegel ’22), her tailor (“Frank,” Thomas Vitarelli ’22), her therapist (“Lorenzo,” Jaedan Curcio ’23) and Frances’ roommate (“Joan,” Elsa June Ciscel ’22). By merely spending time with Tilly, all those in her orbit are distracted by her energy to the point where Frank collects her tears in a vial and Lorenzo begs for a lock of her hair as a keepsake. Frances is equally enthralled and wants to take care of her, and Joan yearns to stroke her hair.
Eventually, as Tilly’s mood changes into a joyously manic one, the other characters begin to withdraw from her. Meanwhile, unexpectedly, the public is afflicted by an ailment that turns people into almonds, and Lorenzo steps on a few on his way to work. This fantastical fate befalls Frances, too, as she becomes a tiny almond resting upon a couch pillow. When Tilly begins to cry, Frank collects her tears and the cast who surrounds Frances/almond drinks Tilly’s tears. The stage fades to black and when the lights return, all the characters are together, again, including Tilly. The characters question whether they are now almonds. Emotions drive the play, and the transformation of the characters into almonds is intentional. The amygdala (the Greek word for almond), is the almond-shaped segment of the brain that controls emotions.
Director of Theater Kyle Reynolds admitted that the play proved elusive upon his first reading due to its randomness, complete with intermittent singing by the characters reminiscent of a Greek chorus. “Once I started working with our actors - it clicked for me. It makes sense. Our behavior is simply contagious. We are both drawn and distracted by certain emotions and energies. In fact, I have found that if you were to walk into a room of strangers - their energy has the potential to be toxic, if not poisonous to your energy. How could this be? This play answers this question for me,” Reynolds wrote in the Playbill liner notes.
The cast delivered fine performances. Kaliszewski’s spiraling enthusiasm required high energy to maintain; Curcio with his hard-to-define European accent provided comic relief in the over-the-top proclamations of his love for Tilly; sharp-witted, sassy Siegel deftly acted on her feet; Vitarelli effectively portrayed one freshly smitten with newfound love; and Ciscel showed great depth as the emotionally invested and witty Joan. Held in the Black Box Theater, the set was an ingenious use of the space. The stage, divided into quadrants representing each main character, was linked by a pebbled path. Off-stage, but within plain sight was a cellist whose mournful playing provided the connective tissue from scene to scene.
The production staff included:
Director - Kyle Reynolds
Technical Director - Rob MacPherson
Lighting Design - Mark Kravetz
Music Director - Steve Mitchell
Costumer - Vivian Lamb
Cello - Brian Capouch
Stage manager - Spencer Schaller ’20
Light Board Operator - Geethika Chandragiri ’21
Stage Crew/Set Construction - Walter Kraus ’21, Aiden Borruso ’20, Christina Mullen ’23, Chayse Shamleffer ’23, Cecelia Wang ‘20, Troy Gostyla ’20
Directors Team - Edward Schwartz ’22
Artwork- Greg Scranton