Summerworks 2009: Melancholy Play – Project Undertow

by Lucy Allen

Clockwise from left: Salvatore Antonio, Anna Hardwick, Ingrid Rae Doucet, Ennis Esmer, Melissa-Jane Shaw, Pamela Rhae Ferguson
It’s hard to believe that a show would leave me feeling so happy to be sad.  Project Undertow’s Melancholy Play, playing in the Factory Theatre Mainspace as part of the Summerworks Festival, opened tonight to a large, welcoming audience and with good reason.  I left the show feeling anything but melancholy.

Melancholy Play focuses mostly on the character of Tilly, a delightfully melancholy girl whose sadness and outlook on life make her irresistible to her friends and colleagues.  Things then take a turn for the worse when Tilly becomes inexplicably happy, causing her friends’ lives to descend into chaos and confusion.

The concept of our society’s craving for suffering to fulfill our lives is a familiar one and one that can often be heavy handed.  Luckily, Sarah Ruhl provides a tightly written script and moves the narrative along at a quick and light-hearted pace.  The plot takes a turn for the absurd fairly early on and just as quickly draws the audience in.

The only real jarring point came during a musical number, which while amusing, didn’t really fit with the style the play had established.  The ending also felt slightly slapped together but as my show partner, Erica, pointed out, it’s a mark of a good show when we can only nitpick on particulars.

Both cast and crew did a superb job bringing the script to life.  The cast as a whole is strong, bringing great energy and cohesiveness to the farce.  Erica and I both had difficulties choosing a favourite among them.  Ingrid Doucet as the melancholy Tilly anchors the show and it’s hard not to fall in love with her the moment her first lines are spoken.  Likewise, Melissa-Jane Shaw provides an alternate Tilly, a choice that seems odd at first but one that suits the absurd nature of the rest of the play.

Salvatore Antonio as the lovelorn therapist Lorenzo practically had me in tears for much of his performance, and was committed enough to actually drool on a fellow cast member (and when sitting in the second row, it’s just as hilariously gross as it sounds).  One of Erica’s favourites was Ennis Esmer as the tailor Frank, who provided a quieter but nonetheless quirky performance.

One of my favourite things about the show, however, was the inclusion of cellist Cheryl Ockrant, who accompanied most of the performance live and was pretty much the cherry on top of the proverbial sundae.  She provided both a melancholy and quirky soundtrack that accented the actors beautifully.

In short: go see this play.  Melancholy Play had me and the rest of the audience laughing and cheering for more.  If you like farce, bizarre plot twists, or even just good theatre, this is a play to see.  It was a great way for me to start off the Summerworks Festival, and will be hard to top.


Melancholy Play is playing in the Factory Theatre Mainspace as part of the Summerworks Theatre Festival.

August 8th- 2:30pm
August 9th- 10:30pm
August 12th- 6:30 pm
August 13th- 4:30pm
August 15th- 10:30pm

-Tickets are $10.

-Advance tickets can be bought in person at the Arts Box Office (located at Theatre Passe Muraille), online at, or by phone at 416-504-7529.

Photo by Michelle Bailey, provided by Summerworks website.