“Moroseness: The ultimate sexy move!” That teaser line might run on the cover of Cosmopolitan in the buoyantly absurdist world of “Melancholy Play: A Contemporary Farce.” Now on view in a funny if occasionally overemphatic Constellation Theatre Company production, Sarah Ruhl’s quirky and poetic comedy imagines an alternate universe in which a woman’s chronic sadness prompts passing acquaintances to fall hopelessly in love with her.
Tilly isn’t sad for any practical reason. The beauty and transience of life may have triggered her blue funk, which she views in a matter-of-fact fashion. “I would like to die and be reborn as a mushroom. . . . I will release spores now and again when it suits my mood,” she says, attempting to describe her inner state, in a remark that exemplifies the play’s whimsical lyricism.
In director Nick Martin’s staging, the emotional escapades of Tilly (Billie Krishawn) and her infatuated admirers — including the physicist turned hairdresser Frances (Mary Myers) and the psychiatrist Lorenzo (Christian Montgomery) — play out in jaunty fashion. The performances are deliberately stylized: When two lovers kiss, each kicks a right foot up in near-dancelike ecstasy. When a happy character enters, she hopscotches giddily into view holding a red balloon. The approach suits the kooky narrative, although occasionally/particularly when Lorenzo is speaking, the exaggeration quotient could stand to dial down, say, 5 percent.
A poised presence, Krishawn nicely underplays Tilly’s moods while exuding the kind of wonderment that the entire play seems designed to express. John Austin brings crisp definition to Frank, a decorous tailor; Myers channels Frances with verve; and Lilian Oben is drolly prim as Joan, a British nurse. (Designer Kitt Crescenzo gives the costumes a fitting touch of the hyperbolic.) Actress and cellist Kate Rears Burgman provides live music while portraying Julian, the play’s burst-the-fourth-wall cellist character.
Hints of Magritte cling to scenic designer Jonathan Dahm Robertson’s set: montages of doors and window frames, plus glimpses of a cloud-mottled sky. It’s a mysterious yet playful look in tune with a tale whose 11th-hour surreal twist could give Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” a run for its money.
The acclaimed author of works including “Eurydice” and “The Clean House,” Ruhl goes nearly overboard with fanciful caprice in “Melancholy Play.” Still, some of the whimsy is amusing. In one burst of backstory, Frank recalls that, as a child, he was shipped across an ocean in a gussied-up parcel. He cries out to his listeners, “Do you know the pain of being gift-wrapped at a young age?”
Melancholy Play: A Contemporary Farce by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Nick Martin; lighting design, A.J. Guban; composer, Wytold; properties, Marie Schneggenburger; assistant director, Francesca Marie Chilcote. 95 minutes. Tickets: $19-45. Through Sept. 2 at Source, 1835 14th St. NW. www.ConstellationTheatre.org or 202-204-7741.