Photo: Courtesy of Constellation Theatre Company

This Melancholy Play Gives Complex Look at Sadness

Staring into the distance, Tilly, Melancholy Play: A Contemporary Farce‘s star asks, “Do you ever long to cry?”

The play is a can’t miss 100-minute contemplation of what makes us happy, sad and completely depressed, written by Pulitzer Prize Finalist and Tony Award nominee Sarah Ruhl. Under the direction of Nick Martin at Source Theatre, Ruhl’s work addresses a full spectrum of emotions with pure laughter and quick glances.

Tilly is a small-town banker who persistently broods. However, if you look closely, a glimpse of hope is found on her tear-stained face. Perfectly played by Billie Krishawn, Tilly finds despair at every turn, even when she falls in love with her tailor, Frank, charmingly played by John Austin.

The affection between Tilly and Frank is sublime, as the two confide their inner anxieties to one another. However, their romance is only one of numerous awkward attempts at the lead’s hand.

Because Tilly’s overtly beautiful and emotional nature is so enchanting, she unintentionally mesmerizes every onlooker with her exaggerated sighs and romanticized explanations of love.

Her first victim is Lorenzo, played by Christian Montgomery. Lorenzo is Tilly’s eccentric therapist who falls for her somber demeanor, confessing love within minutes of their second session. Montgomery candidly portrays a humorous Italian immigrant who finds solace in Tilly’s musings of sadness and despair; he pounces, causing her to flee.

Next to fall head over heels is Frances, the romantically involved lesbian physicist-turned-hairdresser, who is captivated by the heroine during an uneasy haircut. The character, convincingly played by Mary Myers, is drawn to Tilly’s unexplainable neediness and yearns to be her savior.

The two later reunite with Joan, Frances’ partner. Joan, a nurse played by Lilian Oben, is hesitant, yet instantly taken as well. She attempts to soothe Tilly while insuring Frances keeps her distance.

In the latter half of the production, a pivotal shift occurs at Tilly’s birthday party, where oddly enough Lorenzo, Frances and Joan take part in a game of Duck, Duck, Goose. Neurotically laughing like children high on sugar, Tilly’s grim outlook is spent and she swells with euphoria.

Unfamiliar with the newly elated Tilly, the ensemble begins to revert. Grieving the figurative loss of their depressed friend, Frances, Frank and Lorenzo grow hopeless. They comically fight over bottled tears and ultimately decline further into their own pits of despair before they discover their own true happiness.

The marks of melancholy, though suggested in the title, seem less a farce, and instead realistically compelling, proving a witty take on mental illness in the glamorized 1950s. The satirical moments are most evident and appreciated in the many humorous interactions as they each vie for Tilly’s love.

Melancholy Play: A Contemporary Farce is showing at Constellation Theatre Company’s Source through September 2. Tickets are $19-$45.

Source: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; 202-204-7741;