Melancholy Play: A Chamber Musical Review - Sadness Was Never So Fun

Piven Theatre Workshop goes all in with their reimagining of Sarah Ruhl’s 2002 Melancholy Play as a musical.  Besides offering up a snappy musical score by Todd Almond, this Midwest premiere adds a stringed quartet and a pianist to the mix.  The effect is almost hypnotic as the chamber music drives the action forward in this very dark and quirky comedy.  Almost as interesting as what made it to the stage is what did not, namely crippling depression.  The melancholy here is like rain coming down on a picnic, not a deluge of sorrow.

Ryan Lanning and Stephanie Stockstill

The quirky plot centers on the very melancholy bank teller Tilly (a very natural and believable Stephanie Stockstill) who just cannot keep an equally melancholy circle of friends from falling in love with her.  Frank (Chris Ballou), the love struck tailor, pines over Tilly’s insistence that he call her by the right “Tilly.”  The hairdresser Frances (Lauren Paris) is compelled to have an affair with her and then later Frances’ spurned lover (played exceptionally well by Emily Grayson) also takes a strong liking to Tilly.  Even her therapist Lorenzo (played to fine comedic effect by Ryan Lanning) is quick to confess his love to Tilly while trading places with her on the couch.  There is just something about Tilly that attracts the lonely, the love struck, and the dreamer without benefit of a dream.  But then something changes in Tilly with her new lease on life causing some rather predictable (she loses a boyfriend) and very unpredictable changes (think a much nuttier Metamorphosis). 

Stephanie Stockstill and Emily Grayson

Director Polly Noonan (who starred in the original production) shows a keen sense of timing here with the laughs coming natural from the material.  She also does a fine job of weaving many talents into one cohesive and well thought out whole.  Melancholy Play:  a chamber musical works well as a post-modern fable of sorts where the ending does not exactly answer our questions regarding the pursuit of happiness.  Rather it leaves us with the understanding that for some people it is OK to listlessly want what they can never have.

Chris Ballou and Stephanie Stockstill

Bottom Line:  Melancholy Play: A Chamber Musical is recommended and is playing now through June 7th at 927 Noyes Street in Evanston.  Tickets are $20 - $35 and can be purchased at or by calling (847) 866-8049.  For more theater reviews go to

Photos by:  Chris Zoubris


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