Melo-llama: A Melodrama
nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
August 12, 2006
Playwright Sarah Bagley, director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, choreographer Katie Workum, and six very talented actors have concocted 70 minutes of hilarity that should be on everyone's viewing list at this year's FringeNYC.
Melo-Llama: a Melodrama is the joyously absurd story of Constance, a reader employed by Carl, the founding director of a decades' old downtown theatre, who asks her to find the perfect melodramatic love story so that his theatre can enter and win a contest that will bring it much needed cash. She finds the story at the zoo—a show written by a llama (and aspiring playwright) named Juan Carlo. Juan Carlo hasn't quite finished his play, but Connie takes it anyway, assured by the llama that he will finish the work. Meantime Connie's ex-boyfriend, the famous performance artist Lionel, is also entering the contest—he has his own designs on using Juan Carlo. Maple, a tree at the zoo who loves Juan Carlo, tries as best she can to help him, though she is rooted to the ground. Interwoven somehow in the midst of all this is near-blind Hattie, who had Connie out of wedlock. There is confusion, confession, suspicion, suspense, and a final resolve to a happy ending for all.
Did I mention that the playwright character is a talking llama?
The cast is terrific—von Stuelpnagel has crafted this ensemble performance in a unified style (thank you!) that is, appropriately, heightened melodrama with a comic edge. They all find the truth in their characters while playing with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek—they don't comment of the action, yet they have a delicious glint in their eyes.
Abbie Killen's Constance is the comic core of the piece with a Lucille Ball sensibility. Jorge Cordova distills a charming talking llama, with accent, that is so appropriate to the play that we gleefully go with it. Amber Gray's Maple is simply adorable. Every melodrama needs a villain and Jadrien Steele's Lionel is a perfect blend of avarice and a little bit of heart. Steven Hauck brings just the right touch of weary desperate suffering and hopeful ego to Carl. Elizabeth West's Hattie rounds out the ensemble with fine comic form and keen timing.
The designers all deserve special mention for their work: Walter Trarbach (sound), Leren Phillips (lights), Meghan Sharer (costumes), and Tim Mackabee (sets). The set pieces are clever and simple—perfect for a Fringe show. The costumes are inventive and fun—Maples's outfit is ingeniously spare. The lights and sound integrate well into the production. Extra special mention needs to go to Workum for her choreography. There are several funny dance sequences that work so well they just seamlessly and joyously come out the action, including final choreography that is a very fitting ending.
See this show: it is lighthearted, absurd theatre at its best.