The Northern Illinois University School of Theatre and Dance will open their 2022-2023 performance season with Melancholy Play in the Stevens Building’s Black Box Theatre. Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 23, 24, 29 and 30, and 2 p.m. matinees on Sept. 25 and Oct. 1.

Melancholy Play is an exploration of sadness, love and commonalities of the human experience. Written by Sarah Ruhl, it is a five-character, experiential play featuring overlapping dialogue, live cello and singing components, absurdism and almonds. In this Mainstage rendition directed by NIU voice and movement professor Bethany Mangum-Oles, expect high stakes, grounded acting and intense emotionality.

Play description: 
Tilly’s melancholy is of an exquisite quality. She turns her melancholy into a sexy thing, and every stranger she meets falls in love with her. One day, inexplicably, Tilly becomes happy, and wreaks havoc on the lives of her paramours. Frances, Tilly’s hairdresser, becomes so melancholy that she turns into an almond. It is up to Tilly to get her back.

Tickets are $17 for adults, $15 for seniors and $9 for non-NIU students. All productions are free for NIU students to attend. Purchase tickets online at To contact the box office, call 815-753-1600 or email


Playwright: Sarah Ruhl
Director: Bethany Mangum-Oles
Assistant Director: Katie Robitscheck
Stage Manager: Sarah Blickem
Lighting Designer: Brandon Wardell
Sound Designer: Ben Werner
Costume Designer: Danielle Reinhardt
Scenic Designer: Eric Brockmeier
Composer: Brandon Rittenour
Technical Director: Adam Rager
Intimacy Coach: Bethany Mangum-Oles
Fight Choreographer: Stanton Davis
Movement Choreography: Company Collaborated


Naava Ofri-AkmanNaava Ofri-Akman  (Tilly) is a senior B.F.A. acting student. She has previously appeared in NIU’s productions of “A Bird in the Hand,” “Everybody” and “The Language Archive,” as well as RI Shakespeare Rep’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She hopes you enjoy this show.


Wesley Hutchinson (Frank) is a senior B.F.A. acting candidate, and this is his fifth show at Northern Illinois University. He has acted in “Love and Information,” “Everybody,” “Summer Nights,” “Twelfth Night,” and “Conference Of The Birds” here at NIU. Mr. Hutchinson is very honored to be in such a connected piece this semester and to share it all with you.


Matthew JuddMatthew Judd (Lorenzo) is a senior B.F.A. actor in his fourth production at Northern Illinois University. He has been part of Oak Lawn Community Theatre where he appeared in musicals such as “Seussical” as Horton, “Fame” as Schlomo, “Hello Dolly” as Cornelius Hackl and “Footloose” as Willard Hewitt. He also took part in theatre at Alsip Park District, Alan B. Shepard High School and Moraine Valley Community College. Judd has been in NIU’s productions of “Love and Information” directed by Frankie DiCiaccio, “Twelfth Night Or, What You Will” as Antonio, directed by Bethany Mangum-Oles, and “The Conference of the Birds” as Osprey, directed by Cecilie Keenan. Judd is thrilled to be a part of such an amazing show that truly is a special experience for everyone to see.

Kristen Serbia
Kristen Serbia
(Frances) is a junior B.F.A. acting candidate and is so very glad to be back in the Blackbox once again at Northern Illinois University’s School of Theatre and Dance. Recent credits include Hoopoe in “The Conference of the Birds,” by Sholeh Wolpe; directed by Cecile Keenan, Brenda in a staged reading of “La Ruta” by Isaac Gomez, Grusha in “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” by Bertolt Brecht and an ensemble member in “Anna in the Tropics” by Nilo Cruz. She is honored to be creating art on the stage and growing as an actor during such dark and uncertain times. She would also like to dedicate this performance to her family and friends, and hates being rational! Jeremiah 29:11

GozdeckiGabby Gozdecki (Joan) is a second-year B.F.A. acting candidate. She is thrilled to be making her NIU debut in “Melancholy Play.” Every day in the rehearsal room has taught her incredible lessons. She feels extremely lucky to be working with Bethany Mangum-Oles alongside a killer cast. Although she has never been to New Zealand, she did spend her summer in Tanzania with The Outer Loop Theater Experience working on The Humanity Project. Some of her other credits include Florinda in “Into the Woods” and Charlotte Lucas in “Pride and Prejudice.” Gabby hopes you enjoy this tree nut allergy-safe show.

RittenourBrandon Rittenour (Composer/Julian) has performed as a cellist and conducted throughout the Northwest, Carnegie Hall, Austria and the Czech Republic. Brandon graduated summa cum laude with his Bachelor of Music Education from Walla Walla University. While at WWU, he performed in the honors quartet as principal cellist of the symphony orchestra, and as a cello sub for the Walla Walla Symphony. He is pursuing his Master of Music in cello performance at NIU under Avalon String Quartet cellist Cheng Hou-Lee.


Location: Illinois. Present day.

I’ve always been interested in the ancient category of emotional and aesthetic experience – melancholy – that has been a wellspring for artists including lyric poetry in Japan before the common era, Shakespeare, Robert Burton, the paintings of the 19th century, Rilke, Satie, Chopin, and even black and white movies. Melancholy can be active, yearning, hopeful, nostalgic, sexy even; and offers the possibility of communing with others. Melancholy makes us contemplate the inevitable passage of time – the transience of things – and. in that sense, it’s not neurotic, but rather a part of the human condition.

Depression, by contrast, is hermetic, sealed off, inert, hopeless, an emotion hard to communicate to others; an emotion it would be nice to get rid of. I felt that in our cultural zeal to eradicate depression in the current pharmaceutical era (as well we should) that possibly other shades of emotion were getting eased out of the language and the culture at the same time – and perhaps it wasn’t worth throwing the baby out with the bathwater. So, I wrote Melancholy Play, in which a woman is so drenched in a sensual melancholy that everyone falls in love with her. Then one day she gets happy, wreaking havoc on her paramours. One woman, Frances, falls into such a depression over her lost love that she turns into an almond. Twelve years later, I met a wonderful composer named Todd Almond. Freud says there are no coincidences.

I always felt there might be more music in the play, and Todd said he heard a string quartet, piano and an almost-sung-through score. I trusted Todd implicitly: He has gorgeous green eyes that look as though they are always dreaming of some far-off sea; he is from the Midwest, as am I; and his music is beautiful. He wrote the score, effortlessly flinging the music into song, and here is our offering to you.

The other question the play poses is how to reach people who are sealed off, past the point of melancholy and in a windowless room of depression. The rather simple answer that the play offers is: You go to them. Thank you for traveling to the country of melancholy with us. We take the journey seriously, but we hope that you have some serious fun along the way.

– Sarah Ruhl, 2015
This play is dedicated to everyone who, at one point or another, has traveled to an almond state.

2022-2023 NIU Theatre and Dance Season

Fall productions

Melancholy Play
by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Bethany Mangum-Oles
Tilly’s melancholy is of an exquisite quality. She turns her melancholy into a sexy thing, and every stranger she meets falls in love with her. One day, inexplicably, Tilly becomes happy, and wreaks havoc on the lives of her paramours. Frances, Tilly’s hairdresser, becomes so melancholy that she turns into an almond. It is up to Tilly to get her back.
Black Box Theatre
Sept. 23-25 and Sept. 29-Oct 1

Much Ado About Nothing
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Kay Martinovich
The School of Theatre and Dance’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing is set in a brothel where the women run the household and the men don’t make all the rules. Conventional gender roles are overturned while sexual metaphors abound in this bawdy tale set in the 18th century – when the military are coming home from a successful battle abroad. And the returning officers are ready to have fun.

A feminist take on a much beloved classic of the Shakespeare canon provides much frivolity and wit, spying and mis-observing, and most important, a most modern critique of romantic love and marriage.  Beatrice and Benedick are caught up in a thought-provoking sexual battle of wordplay and sharp barbs. Can they both win?
Sally Stevens Players Theatre
Oct. 7-9 and Oct. 13-15

She Kills Monsters
by Qui Nguyen
Directed by Kendra Holton
Identity, grief, and triumph intersect in this zany, fantastical play by Qui Nyugen. Years after losing her family all at once, Agnes discovers a homespun Dungeons and Dragons module while packing up her sister’s room. Reality and imagination blur as she embarks on an adventure through the lens of her sibling’s experience as a queer high schooler in a small town long before nerds were cool. Along the way, roleplaying in her sister’s limitless world of fantasy grants Agnes the ability to determine how to move on with her own very real life.
O’Connell Theatre
Oct. 21-23 and Oct. 27-29

God of Carnage
by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Hannah Hammel
What happens when two sets of parents meet up to deal with the unruly behavior of their children? A calm and rational debate between grown-ups? Or a hysterical night of name-calling, tantrums, and tears before bedtime? ‘Boys will be boys’, but the adults are usually worse – much worse.
Sally Stevens Players Theatre
Nov. 4-6 and Nov. 10-12

Carmina Burana – Fall Dance Concert
Directed by Paula Frasz
NIU’s talented dance students take the stage to perform a crowd-pleasing ballet of 13th century songs and poems, including the famous “O Fortuna!”
O’Connell Theatre
Nov. 17-20

And coming this spring

Life is a Dream
by Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Sally Stevens Players Theatre
Feb. 10-12 and Feb. 16-18

In a Word
by Lauren Yee
Sally Stevens Players Theatre
Feb. 24-26 and March 2-4

The Children’s Hour
by Lillian Hellman
O’Connell Theatre
March 31-April 2 and April 6-9

MFA/BFA Actor Showcase
Corner Theatre
April 12-15

Big Love
by Charles Mee
Sally Stevens Players Theatre
April 14-16 and 20-22

Spring Dance Concert
O’Connell Theatre
April 27-30

Season Ticket packages are also available
O’Connell Theatre Series
Five shows presented in the O’Connell Theatre and Black Box Theatre

Sally Stevens Players Theatre Series
Five shows presented in the Sally Stevens Players Theatre

For more information visit the NIU School of Theatre and Dance website:


Frank offers up his defense
Tilly asks Frank why he is like an almond
The Unfeeling Lorenzo
Frank and Frances’ Account of their Labor
Tilly goes to the tailor
Tilly visits Lorenzo
Frances cuts Tilly’s hair
Lorenzo the Unfeeling from Behind a Window
Frances explains to Joan about her affair with Tilly
Frank and Tilly
Joan and Frances and Tilly have Tea
Tilly, alone
A Song
Tilly Becomes Happy

The Consequence of Tilly’s Great Happiness
Tilly Confesses her Happiness to Lorenzo
Joan and Frances and Tilly
Frank goes to see Lorenzo the Unfeeling
The Vial of Tears
A song from the company
Joan reveals a terrible secret to Tilly
By the bedside of Frances the almond
Inside the almond
Joan at work, the night-shift
Tilly goes to Frank’s Tailor Shop
Joan, Lorenzo, Frank, Tilly and the Almond

Production Team Bios

Bethany Mangum-Oles (Director) is an actor, director, educator and mama of two born and raised in southern California. Marking her 10th directed production with NIU, she is thrilled to be returning to the mainstage this season with her direction of “Melancholy Play.” Bethany holds a B.F.A. in acting from California State University, Fullerton, and an M.F.A. in acting from NIU where her studies have taken her to the Moscow Art Theater School in Moscow, Russia and the Adana International Theatre Festival in Adana, Turkey. Bethany is a Certified Intimacy Captain and currently is in pursuit of her Trauma-informed Yoga Certification. She has made her artistic home here at NIU as full-time performance-area faculty. She also serves as the artistic director for MUSE Theatre Collective and rotating voice and movement faculty at the Gately-Poole Studio.

Katie Robitschek (Assistant Director) is a junior B.A. theatre studies student from Aurora, Illinois. She wishes to pursue stage management and costumes. This is her second show at NIU. On her first show, she worked with the wardrobe team on “Twelfth Night.” Previously at NIU she starred in ensembles for “Cats,” “Footloose,” and “The King and I” in community theater. She then built sets for her high school productions of “The Bad Seed” and “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.” She is excited to be here for this show and shows to come.

Sarah Blickem (Stage Manager) is a third-year B.F.A. theatre design and technology candidate, emphasizing in stage management and props. Credits include stage manager for “RUR” here at NIU, and assistant stage manager for “Escape to Margaritaville,” “Lend Me A Tenor,” “Annie,” “Legally Blonde,” “Nunsense,” and “We Will Rock You” at Timber Lake Playhouse. They are so happy to be back in the School of Theatre and Dance, and is incredibly grateful for this opportunity to create. They would like to thank her parents for their unwavering love and support.

Brandon Wardell (Lighting Designer) is a lighting and scenic designer based in Chicago. He is an ensemble member at Steep Theatre Company, an artistic associate with Griffin Theatre Company, and associate professor of lighting design at Northern Illinois University. Recent designs include “Light Falls,” “Birdland,” “Lela & Co.” and “Earthquakes in London” (Steep Theatre Co.); “Two Trains Running” (Court Theatre); “Blues in the Night” (Porchlight Music Theatre); “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” (Steppenwolf Theatre Co.); “A Number” (Writers Theatre); “Cardboard Piano and The Vibrator Play” (TimeLine Theatre Co.); “Men On Boats” (American Theatre Co.); “Solaris,” “Titanic,” “London Wall” and “Men Should Weep” (Griffin); “The Game of Love and Chance” (American Players Theatre); and “Million Dollar Quartet” (Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival). Brandon earned his M.F.A. from Northwestern University.

Ben Werner (Sound Designer) is in his last semester as a B.F.A. design and technology candidate, focusing on audio and lighting. “Melancholy Play” is Ben’s sixth show here at Northern Illinois University. Ben’s previous NIU credits include sound design for “The Conference of The Birds,” “Twelfth Night Or What You Will” and “Angels in America,” assistant sound designer for Fall Dance 2019, and “The Time of Your Life.” Ben has also worked with Northern Sky Theater in Door County, Wisconsin for the past four years where he has held the position of audio technician and was given the opportunity to design eight productions. Learn more at

Danielle Reinhardt (Costume Designer) is a third-year M.F.A. in costume design candidate from Sycamore, Illinois. During her time at NIU, Danielle has created costume designs for “The Conference of the Birds,” “Edward II,” “Polaroid Stories” and “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.” Prior to coming to NIU, she designed the costumes for Stage Coach Players’ performance of “The Little Mermaid” (Egyptian Theatre) as well as the independent film “The White Horse is Dead.” Danielle has also earned her M.B.A. at Elmhurst University and is a senior brand manager for Ultra PRO Entertainment. Her motto is to never stop learning and never stop dreaming.

Eric Brockmeier (Scenic Designer) is a second-year M.F.A. scenic design graduate student. His previous works include scenic designer for the “Fall Dance Concert” (NIU 2021), and for “The Game’s Afoot” (Elgin Community College 2022); assistant scenic designer for the “Conference of the Birds” (NIU 2022); charge artist for “Twelfth Night” (NIU 2021); scenic designer for the University of Northern Colorado’s production of “The Heiress” (2020); assistant scenic designer for “The Cherry Orchard” (2019 UNCO); and assistant charge artist for “The Imaginary Invalid” (2018 UNCO). He would like to thank his friends, family and professors for their support in getting to this point. Enjoy the show! Joshua 1:9

Production Team

Scenic Coordinator: Sahin Sahinoglu
Scene Shop Supervisor: Adam Rager
Run Crew: Jordyn Crooks, Quovadis Nabors, Alex Thomas
Wardrobe Crew: Alyssa Altadonna, Ahtei Chagai, Millicent Collins, Brenda Sifuentes
Costume Design Advisor: Jeremy W. Floyd
Costume Director: Lori Hartenoff
Costume Shop Supervisor: Clare Richey-Kaplan
Lighting Design Advisor: Brandon Wardesll
Lighting Supervisor: Chris Kurszewski
Assistant Lighting Designer: Timothy Peters
Resident Master Electrician: Chris Kurszewski
Properties Director: Dave Doherty
Technical Direction Advisor: Tracy Nunnally
Stage Management Supervisor: Kevin Kollman
House Manager Supervisor: Cornelia Hayes

Special Thanks

Rich Grund, Kay Martinovich, Jeremy Floyd, Ed Klonoski, Kris Downing, Dave Doherty, NIU Prop Shop Team, Stanton Davis, Brandon Wardell, Katie Robitschek, Ben Werner, Eric Brockmeier, Lori Hartenhoff, Sahin Sahinoglu, Adam Rager, Danielle Reinhardt, Brandon Rittenour, Gibson Cima, Chris Kurszewski, Sarah Blickem, Tracy Nunnally, Cornelia Hayes, Becky Mangum, Kathy, Jason, Bennett, and Georgia Oles, Logan Blake, and the acting company for their unimaginable joy and tireless efforts of physical and emotional storytelling. I promise to always go to you. — Bethany Mangum-Oles

About the NIU School of Theatre and Dance

Our principles are simple. Students perform publicly all four years of the program. Our students have a strong work ethic and commitment to excellence, but also the ability to work as an ensemble and treat other artists with respect – this is not only fostered but required. We emphasize in collaboration and NOT competition! For tickets and more information, please visit