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Review: Undergraduate Theater Society’s ‘Melancholy Play: A Chamber Musical’ transforms sadness into something sensual

Melancholy becomes true love’s calling in this delightfully quirky spectacle

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UTS Melancholy

No one likes sad company, right? Well, in the case of “Melancholy Play: A Chamber Musical,” written by Sarah Ruhl with music by Todd Almond and directed by the Undergraduate Theater Society’s (UTS) A.D. Kassing, sorrow takes on an unexpectedly irresistible and sensual form.

By capturing the seemingly negative emotion in the delicate and passionate character Tilly, played by Racquel West, audience members get a sense of how enchanting and sweetly sensitive the sensation can be. The allure of the trait is displayed somewhat sarcastically, but nevertheless, this production succeeds in drawing outsiders into the possibility that attraction disguises itself in endless forms.

The story delivers a lighthearted and witty take on obsession and misery while following Tilly, a young bank teller, who manages to draw in every person she comes across with her displays of emotional depth. Over the course of the play, we watch each of the characters battle with one another over their love for Tilly until, eventually, the once-melancholic figure finds inner joy brought on by this newfound community of support. This transition in Tilly’s character disturbs the others, sending each of them into their own despair, and eventually causing one character to transform into an almond. Yes, an almond. The play comes to a close as each of the characters are united in their efforts to retrieve their now-nut friend, developing a genuine connection with one another that goes beyond mere fixation.

The first captivating aspect of this performance was the intimacy of the set. The stage, in Hutchinson Hall, was small, littered with a few simple props and situated between two sets of bleachers which directly faced one another. The actors go about their business only feet away from the audience members, even taking opportunities to make eye contact with viewers, inviting them into their world.

The second notable brilliance of the play is the music. Being a chamber musical, each number is accompanied by the presence of classical music performed by a small collection of musicians wielding string instruments and a piano, who are situated in the corner of the stage. The lyrics carry a somewhat spontaneous and casual quality, defying rhymes and not always perfectly lining up with the pace of the music, but escaping the mouths of cast members delightfully nonetheless. Each member of the cast is incredibly vocally talented, though the lead actresses’ vocal range is particularly astounding.

The costume design and makeup were also well-executed. Each of the five characters sported simple clothes, in line with the rest of the play’s aura, as well as drawn-on designs of flowers or patterns on their faces and arms, which added a creative element.

The only major setback I observed was that on a few numbers the lyrics and lines of the actors could not be clearly heard over the volume of the music. But overall, UTS’s production of “Melancholy Play” had audience members in a constant state of giddiness and uncertainty. Every turn this story took was completely unforeseen, every succeeding line or action further erasing the space that separated the actors from their viewers and the anticipated from the abnormal.

“Melancholy Play” closes this week, with shows May 2 through 5. Tickets, which are $10 for UW students, are available through the UTS website and at the door.

The verdict: UTS’s “Melancholy Play: A Chamber Musical,” despite what the title may suggest, will leave you feeling satisfied, cheerful, and blushing at every foolishly sexual display. You shouldn’t miss it.

Reach writer Billie Featherston at Twitter: @BillieFeathers1

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