This year Farmington High School’s One Act Play cast learned how friends can be a lifeline to support one another during periods of grief and sadness.
The public is invited to attend “The Melancholy Play,” a comedy farce written by Sarah Ruhl. There will be one performance at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, at Robert Boeckman Middle School in Farmington.
Co-directors Benjamin Domask-Ruh and Joshua Zapata-Palmer describe the play as a story of sadness and friendship. The character Tilly is drowning in sadness and melancholy and every stranger she meets falls madly in love with her.
“One day, inexplicably, Tilly becomes happy and her hairdresser becomes so melancholy that she turns into an almond, and it is up to Tilly to get her back,” explains Ruh.
The almond is written into the play as a reference to the brain’s amygdala that is almond-shaped. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotions, survival instincts and memory and it allows humans to plan for the future, but it can be stimulated during times of anxiety, fear, depression and even melancholia.
“'The Melancholy Play' is not just about sadness; it is about what you do when someone else becomes so overwhelmed and so wrapped up in emotion, that they turn into a helpless almond. It is a beautiful play and there is a message about when someone in our social circles gets lost and becomes so sad that they cannot even move, it is our duty to go rescue them,” Ruh said.
Student director Nora Simondet said: “This is not a typical show and I love how the directors chose it and we have made something so different and so understandable. This play makes sense and you can feel the characters if you watch them. The play is so relatable, imaginative and creative.”
Simondet, a junior, has worked back stage since her freshman year and this year she wanted to grow, she said, She decided to apply and try her hand at directing. She intends to pursue a career in theater as an actress.
“They (the cast) have really picked up things pretty quickly and I have learned to be very patient,” Simondet said.
“Nora is patient, tenacious and super focused and committed to what needs to be done, and she has a way of being a great conduit for us,” Ruh said.
Simondet helps the two directors understand the needs of the cast and crew and works to give an emotional connection to make the production more effective, he said.
“We focus on telling the story the best we can and getting to the heart of the emotional impact. We really are helping all of our actors and tech crew do well with their abilities and confidence and are more focused on the whole experience as opposed to let’s win this year,” Ruh said.
Farmington's 3-year-old One Act Play program is relatively young in comparison to neighboring schools.
“Every year we have watched students grow in those abilities at every turn and we have heard such positive things,” Ruh said.
Technical director Tori Domask-Ruh said the competition allows students to see other schools perform and the backstage operations of the productions.
“I think it builds a nice sense of community with the theatrical kids because athletes who are playing sports all get to meet each other, and in theater you do not get that much of that,” she said.
Director Joshua Zapata-Palmer said the eight-week One Act competition season is short.
"I think students should get involved with the One Act because it is a chance for them to dive deeply into the process of theater in a new way,” Palmer said.
Farmington's One Act will compete in Minnesota State High School League One Act Play competition. The group will practice at a festival on Jan. 19, at Burnsville High School and then take the production on stage to compete at the sub-section contest Jan. 23 and 30 with both competitions hosted at Lakeville South High School.
The directors agree this play's melancholy message can be a valuable lesson for students to understand, especially when anxiety and mental health can be challenges for teenagers.
Palmer said: “To me, this production is powerful and it is funny, but is says something universal about human existence because it talks about how when a person becomes overwhelmed by life or emotion, sometimes they enter a catatonic state referred to as the almond state, and the only solution given by the play is to go be with that person."