GUEST REVIEW: Kathleen Coudle-King Gives You A Sense Of Melancholy

Published on March 13, 2018 by   ·   No Comments
Once again, Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre’s Executive Director, Kathleen Coudle-King comes through with a guest review of the latest production by the Empire Theatre Company.  Kathleen has been a theatre-lover and theatre-maker in our community for many years and I always enjoy getting her perspective on the new shows in town.  I know you’ll enjoy reading her thoughts on this fantastic play written by Sarah Ruhl and brought to life under the direction of ETC’s Creative Director, Chris Berg – and you’ll enjoy watching the show even more! – XOXO, Miss Jaye
Melancholy 05Last night I had the chance to see something we so rarely get a chance to see in GF: Absurdist theatre. Melancholy Play by Sarah Ruhl with music by Michael Roth opened Thursday and plays this weekend and next at Empire Arts Center. [Editor’s note: there is a third weekend, dates at the bottom] Just like you wouldn’t go see an opera and expect singers tap dancing and doing a kick-line, you don’t go see absurdist theatre and expect it to play by the same “rules” as a realistic drama. If you’re not familiar with plays by Ionesco or Pirandello and others of the absurdist theatre, you might be slower to catch on, but that doesn’t mean you won’t catch on!

Melancholy 03The Melancholy Play employs a kind of poetry that will draw you in if you don’t fight it. My brain was scrambling to keep up with what seemed to be metaphor, but then again — maybe it wasn’t metaphor. What WAS I seeing? At the climax of the play the characters ask us to believe a magical transformation has occurred. As an audience member, you have a choice: go with the characters, go with them and buy into the premise that a transformation has taken place. Or — you can decide they’re delusional. But what’s the fun in that? Let go of your logical mind and fall back into that place we go when we dream. The actors are so earnest in their performance, you may find yourself leaning in at a point or two when they are listening to the _ in anticipation it will speak. (I don’t want to give it away. It’s too much fun.) I actually gasped when they almost dropped the __ .

Director Chris Berg has utilized a simple set in the Empire’s black box to get out of the way of the playwright’s words. There are some wooden window frames that are used as mirrors and windows to the outside world. Clear, bare light bulbs hang sporadically over the set. The floor is painted black with wisps of white paint and speckles of red. A beautiful red “Freud” couch is rolled on and off, and there are a few wooden chairs the actors take on and off (the actors do this, but unlike in Hand to God, this time it was perfectly fine and I’m not going to call the Union on Berg).

Melancholy 02There’s some lovely choreographed movements in the show, which add to the poetic flow of the piece. At one point, the main character, Tilly (Courtney Miller), rides a bike through the set, and the whimsy of this as the audience sits on either side of her added to the fun of the evening. Too bad her bike didn’t have a little bell for her to ring!

The costumes are a delightful compliment to show, as well (I believe Amy Lyste assisted with costumes and hair).  They have a ’50’s feel to them, and when Tilly has an emotional transformation, her cheerful sundress is a perfect reflection of it. Lorenzo’s (played by AnneMarie Brack) too short pants were a nice touch, too. Frances (Maddie Sharpe) looks gorgeous in a green dress. Joan (Misti Koop) is perfectly dowdy in her little suit, then later in her stiff nurse’s uniform (she looks like a nurse who’d enjoy giving you a big shot in the ass – Joan, not Misti. Don’t get the character confused with the actor. I have no idea what Misti likes to do off stage).

Melancholy 04I realize I have not told you what this play is “about.”  I could give you my interpretation, but I think it would be much more fun for you to go see it and tell me what YOU think it’s about. Let’s compare notes!

I will say this: If you’ve ever stood at the edge of an ocean and wept, or you’ve found yourself walking the streets in a drizzle and saw someone, say an old woman on a bench waiting for a bus and you felt a tightness in your chest, if you’ve ever . . . . well, you understand melancholy. You’ll understand this play, too. You’ll be glad you made the time to explore the idea of melancholy with this strong cast of actors.

The cast includes Darin Kerr, Misti Koop, Courtney Miller, Maddie Sharpe, and AnneMarie Madeline Brack. It is directed by Chris Berg. Sound operator, Abigail Plumley does a nice job punctuating the action with music that is – you guessed it – melancholy.

Get out of your comfort zone. We learn so much more when we do.

There are two weeks left to go see The Melancholy Play at Empire Arts Center, Marck 15-17 and 22-24 at 7:30 pm.  Tickets are $22 for Adults, $17 for students and military. There is a $3.50 surcharge to buy your tickets through the Empire Arts Center’s website, or purchase at the door (but be aware, seating is limited and reservations are preferred).

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