Tigers Be Still
Distractions aside, this Hyde Park production's heart and funny bone are in sync with the play's
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., July 27, 2012
Tigers Be StillHyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 479-7529
Through Aug. 11
Running time: 1 hr., 35 min.
What's your tiger? What beast prowls outside your door, waiting to devour you, a creature so terrifying that its presence has you paralyzed, unable to leave your bed or even set your foot upon the floor?
There's a personal tiger stalking each character in Kim Rosenstock's surprisingly touching comedy of recovery, as well as one genuine jungle cat that's escaped from a local zoo. But the flesh-and-blood predator proves much less of a threat than the psychological ones that have these figures fearful of confronting hard truths in their lives and getting on with living. Before starting her new job teaching art, Sherry hadn't set foot out of the house in months. Sister Grace is still encamped on the sofa (save for the occasional foray to her ex's condo to steal something, like, say, his dogs). And their mom hasn't been seen outside her own bedroom in a year – though she did get Sherry that job by putting in a good word with the school principal, her high school flame, who is himself grieving the loss of his wife, who died in a car that was driven by his son, whose issues over that tragedy lead to him being Sherry's first art therapy client. See, it's a delicately tangled little web of immobility holding these people in place. And while her script is irreverently funny, Rosenstock dances on each strand with a rare sensitivity to its vulnerability, allowing us to grasp the tenderness of each heart, the depth of each fear, and, most importantly, the courage in each small step toward healing, be it onto a bus, out of a house, or up a stair to a closed bedroom door.
Those feelings are conveyed affectingly in Hyde Park Theatre's production, most often in Molly Karrasch's Sherry, whose face reveals the character's constant fight to move forward, her expression alternating between joy over progress and anxiety over backsliding. But Sherry does gain ground, as do Jay Michael Fraley's hilariously chipper principal, Jon Cook's chronically snarky son, and Kelsey Kling's sleepy souse of a sis – all of whom also strive to aid in someone else's emotional rescue.
Alas, the play's multiple settings ask a lot of Hyde Park's small stage, and though designer Paul Davis works heroically to fit onto it a living room, dining room, principal's office, park, and Walgreens, the set feels cramped. And that leads HPT Artistic Director Ken Webster to block actors in some unnatural and stiff positions. (These peoples' lives are static, but that doesn't necessarily translate into effective blocking.) Then the odd false note – e.g., the phony sounds of yapping Chihuahuas, a spick-and-span floor under a trash-covered couch – further distracts from a production that otherwise has its funny bone and heart so in sync with Rosenstock's. But despite such uncharacteristic rookie errors for theatre veteran Webster, Tigers Be Still is still a winner. Ultimately, its artists, like its characters, prove themselves able to stare down a tiger and stride past it into the world beyond.