Pacific University's spring production opens Thursday

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Director Elizabeth Klinger praises actress Kailea Satlan, who plays the main character, Tilly.For a work called the “Melancholy Play,” it’s surprisingly upbeat.

“It’s not what you’d expect,” says Director Elizabeth Klinger, a Pacific University adjunct faculty member who has worked with Artists Rep, Portland Center Stage, Oregon Children's Theatre, Catlin Gabel and Polaris Dance Theatre. “It makes fun of how we lament on things and get so depressed.”

The protagonist, Tilly, finds everyone she meets falling in love with her particular brand of beautiful melancholy. In a culture where happiness is applauded above all else, melancholy is a rare emotion characters haven’t widely observed or experienced.

The play, says Klinger, makes a comment about the widespread use of pharmaceuticals.

“Feeling melancholy is an emotion people have, but the play suggests pharmaceuticals are obliterating the nuanced emotions humans feel,” Klinger says. “Like if you’re melancholy, it’s a problem and if you have it you need drugs. Don’t spread your melancholy to other people.”

The work, written by Sarah Ruhl, is one of her lesser known works, Klinger says, but is beautifully written and hilarious.

“The characters are all attracted to Tilly because she’s sad — she talks poetically, she looks longingly out the window, she sighs,” Klinger says.

As Tilly finds herself constantly surrounded with people who love her, she becomes joyful. Her admirers find they no longer love her without her gloominess, which makes them melancholy.

In one scene, the cast laments the loss of a handkerchief. In another, a cast member turns into an almond.

The show’s cast performs three musical numbers and a professional Portland cellist underscores nearly the entire play with 14 musical pieces. The cello was the perfect instrument for the play, Klinger says, because it's the saddest instrument they could think of.

Klinger proposed the play to Pacific's theater department almost a year ago and was ecstatic when they chose a piece that incorporates musical numbers. "I knew Pacific students wanted to do a musical and they've really taken to it," Klinger said. "It's a great piece for them to learn style and work on their timing."

The play ignites all the senses, Klinger says.

“The piece gets really silly but has a really beautiful point,” Klinger says. “We need each other and we need to go out of our way to help each other.”

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