Join Pygmalion Productions as they kick off their 2018-2019 season with a production of “Tigers Be Still” by Kim Rosenstock, one of the writers behind the popular sitcom “New Girl.” If you’re familiar with the show, then it should be no surprise for you to hear that this production is one rooted in comedy. However, the show much more than laughs. Through a comedic lens, the play explores taboo topics like depression, mental illness, grief and loss. Pygmalion addresses these issues within the production itself and outside of it as well.
“Tigers Be Still” is described as a “comedy about depression.” Protagonist Sherry Wickman has finally earned her master’s degree in art therapy, but she finds herself feeling like she’s right back at the beginning again — living at home and unemployed. When she finally catches her break and gets a job at as a substitute art teacher, Sherry thinks things are starting to look up for her. However, the chaos which invades everyone’s’ lives from time to time strikes Sherry. As she learns to work through struggles, the audience does too. Among the mishaps caused by a tiger broken loose from a local zoo, a lazy sister, a distant mother, a psychotic boss and a reluctant student — Sherry’s got her hands full. After all, the heroine has only recently pulled herself away from the depression that seems to have a suffocating hold on everyone around her. Yet she opens the play with an optimistic, honest line which immediately draws the audience in: “This is the story of how I stopped being a total disaster and got my life on track and did not let overwhelming feelings of anxiousness and loneliness and uselessness just, like, totally eat my brain.”
The heart of this production is its honest encounters with these feelings that many of us have experienced. It also confronts and deals with these issues in the same way that we tend to, through art and hobbies. It’s what makes this production feel so authentic compared to many others that try to tackle these themes. According to the Salt Lake Tribune in a report made in June 2018, Utah has the fifth highest suicide rate in the country. The suicide rate has shot up 46.5 percent since 1999, indicating a serious rise in mental illnesses.
Jordan Briggs, an actor in the play, commented on the impact that “Tigers Be Still” can have on a local level: “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.” He continued, “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.”
Engaging in art like “Tigers Be Still” is one of the first steps that we as Utahns can take to help remove the stigma surrounding mental illness. The play shows it’s okay to be vulnerable and to acknowledge mental illness, but not in a way that is overly instructive. Such feelings are normal and the play treats them in this way, allowing audiences to both relate with characters and to learn that it’s okay to not be okay. Elizabeth Golden, the director of the production, says perfectly: “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.”
“Tigers Be Still” will be playing at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, located at 138 West and 300 South, from Oct. 19 to Nov. 3. The show runs on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and on Sundays at 2:00pm. To purchase tickets or to learn more about Pygmalion Productions, visit their website.