SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Sept. 18, 2018 – We asked the four actors in “Tigers Be Still” by Kim Rosenstock, how they would describe the play in three words. Those words are: Grief gets punched. Funny, clever, personal, tender, hilarious, real. heartwarming and healing.
Pygmalion Theatre Company begins its 2018/2019 season with “Tigers Be Still,” directed by Elizabeth Golden, from Oct. 19 – Nov. 3. A comedy about depression; Sherry Wickman finds herself unemployed, overwhelmed, and back at home after earning her master’s degree in art therapy. When Sherry gets hired as a substitute art teacher, things begin to brighten up. Now if only her mother would come downstairs, her sister would get off the couch, her very first therapy patient would do just one of his take-home assignments, her new boss would leave his gun at home, and someone could catch the tiger that escaped from the local zoo, everything would be just fine.
Director Golden said she finds the play to be funny, but with moments of total honesty and heartbreak. “Mental illness, depression, grief, loss, are events that every person in the world has to find a way to deal with,” Golden said. “The hardest part is just starting the conversation. Art and theater offer us moments to stop and watch others dealing with the same heartaches. They can offer us levity and a brief reprieve, and a way to start a very difficult conversation.”
Actor Lane Richins adds that he thinks the issue of mental health is a perpetually relevant one.“It’s a discussion that can sometimes feel a little taboo, but it’s an important discussion to have nonetheless,” Richins said. “Grief is one of those emotions everyone can identify with. And this play treats it with humor, sweetness, honesty…and absurdity.”
Jordan Briggs, who is also in the show, said one of the things that stuck out to him the most when he first read the script was just how honest the characters are. “I think often times we tend to look at comedy as being less realistic than drama, but I don’t think that’s true,” he said. “So it was refreshing to see these honest, vulnerable, and sometimes tortured characters being portrayed realistically through comedy on the page. Because that’s true to life: we use humor as a way of deflecting or making light of what would otherwise be too big of an emotional burden.”
Actor Liz Whittaker adds: “When we tell this kind of story onstage, it allows audience members (and the creative team, too) to ‘face the Medusa without turning to stone.’ Theatre lets us battle our demons in a sort of oblique way. Those who have experienced depression, whether in their own lives or the lives of their loved ones, will see some of their same struggles and triumphs onstage, and that can be incredibly healing.”
Actor Kaitlin Lemon also said she feels the show is relatable. “The honesty in the show throws a mirror up and ignites reflection and connection,” she said. She adds that she thinks the show is particularly relevant and important for Utah audiences. “I think the culture that has been developed here makes it hard to be open and vulnerable with these hard experiences like depression, anger, grief and hopelessness,” Lemon said. “This story helps us to see the power in communicating and expressing our feelings. That does not make us weak or less than. There is a power in vulnerability and sharing your struggles. It’s easier to face the tigers in life when you have your support system by your side.”
Briggs added: “Utah has some of the highest suicide rates in the nation. I know too many people who have tried to commit suicide and- luckily- failed, and unfortunately too many who have tried and succeeded. And on a larger scale I know plenty of people who have spent a long time contemplating it. These are things we have to talk about. I think this play is incredibly intelligent in its portrayal of mental illness because none of these characters outwardly show their depression. We have the stereotypical high-strung, quirky leading lady and her whacky, comic-relief sister. We have the stereotypical ‘problem child’ teen with anger issues and his overbearing father. These are all tropes that we’re familiar with and often don’t think twice about, but over the course of the play we learn that all of these characters are depressed and suffering from some deep emotional trauma. There’s more going on underneath. In Utah, I always think back to Mormon Culture (due to my LDS background), and within that culture there’s this ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ esque way of approaching personal problems and struggles. It’s taboo to open up about your personal challenges or obstacles, and it’s taboo to ask people about what they’re going through. It’s almost seen as shameful to open up to people that you’re depressed. And this contributes to the suicide rate. We force people to hide this big, destructive emotion (their tiger, if you will) inside of them and never let it out and it festers and destroys you from the inside. We have to allow people the opportunity to be vulnerable and share their pain so that we can help to lighten their load.”
Who: Pygmalion Productions Theatre Company
What: “Tigers Be Still”
When: Oct. 19-Nov. 3, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. with an extra matinee final Saturday at 2 p.m.
Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Black Box Theatre, 138 W. 300 South
Tickets: $15-$20 from (801) 355.ARTS (2787) or Artsaltlake.org