Kim Rosenstock has written a wonderful, funny, sweet off-center play called Tigers Be Still. After seeing it at City Theatre, you might ask why she came up with such a title. We could ponder that for days and find reasons to explain it and take it seriously. But why? This charmer requires no analysis.
Oh, certainly, three of the four characters could use curative personal analysis; depression has been gnawing at their innards. Yet when an escaped tiger prowls the streets of their suburban neighborhood, none of them becomes paralyzed with fear. They have their own caged anxieties to deal with. Director Matt M. Morrow and his marvelous cast have found the key to unlock the magic.
Rosenstock has created a non-stop delight because these characters take themselves seriously, doing and saying quirky things, at the same time becoming endearing. The play edges near to looking like a jolly cartoon by framing developments with projected titles, but never goes overboard. The characters always seem genuine and the performances keep them that way.
Sherry Wickman, having emerged from depression, narrates a tale framed by the tiger’s escape. She, her older sister Grace and their mother Wanda have all had serious emotional dysfunction. Sherry’s recovery comes from getting her first real job, counseling others. Grace has made the living room her sack of woe, almost umbilically attached to the living room couch, a down comforter and bottles of Jack Daniels, nursing the agony of permanently collapsed wedding plans. Their mother Wanda is a recluse in her bedroom, the former prom queen having become more like a float in the parade, due to required medication. At a middle school, where Sherry has become a part of the staff, principal Joseph Moore has asked her to counsel his confused, disoriented teen-age son Zack.
Rosenstock fills her scenes with the kind of details stand-up comics use to get laughs, cultural references to ordinary products and situations such as Grace’s former fiancé having strayed from their commitments to fall head over heels in love with podiatrist Dr. Carol. Rosenstock also adds a few good reflective moments.
Erica Cuenca lights up the stage with goofy, vulnerable charm as Sherry, yet maintains the sense that she is a genuine person. So too does Theo Allyn keep Grace from falling into caricature, while wonderfully looking like she, the comforter and a pillow all have the same soft, floppy center. CMU’s soon –to-graduate Noah Plomgren, equals the others’ acting talents, getting the most out of Zack’s several sides. And Jeff Howell as Joseph Moore makes him both funny and sincere.
Credit director Matt M. Morrow for getting his cast to make the comedy work flawlessly while at the same time keeping the characters centered in reality. Many moments look as if he and the actors have found just the right movements, inflections and reactions to enhance the best written aspects of the script.
By the way, although you never see the tiger, even it has unexpected dimensions. Meanwhile expect plenty of laughs from these special humans.
Tigers Be Still continues through May 6th at City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, South Side 412.431.CITY (2489) or www.citytheatrecompany.org