Tigers Be Still

Noah Plomgren, Erika Cuenca and Theo Allyn
Kim Rosenstock's Tigers Be Still has been described as a "quirky dark comedy," and that it is. Quirky as in slightly oddball characters reacting in ways you might not expect. And dark as in not dark enough to make you uncomfortable, but enough to make you wonder how it can all be resolved in a way that allows you to feel good. The result is a box full of puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly by the 105th minute, even if at the 90 minute mark you're sure a couple of pieces are missing.

For the Wickman family, depression is a family affair. Sherry Wickman (Erika Cuenca, an actress I wish we'd see more often on Pittsburgh stages) has only recently emerged from a depression that made her home-bound; she has climbed out of the darkness and is moving forward, starting a career as an art therapist. Her mother is not there yet; she is bedroom-bound (and unseen in the play). Sherry's sister Grace (Theo Allyn) is not only depressed and couch-bound, but also vindictive toward her freshly exed fiance. An unexpected healing agent for the Wickmans appears in the form of local high school principal Joseph Moore (Jeff Howell), also Mother Wickman's first love, and his son Zack (Noah Plomgren, almost shocking in his "normal" appearance after recently appearing as an androgynous Pirelli in CMU's Sweeney Todd). Zack is Sherry's first patient, though a reluctant one, and he has his own grief to bear. Meanwhile, the community is on alert, for a tiger has escaped the local zoo.

Rosenstock has drawn these characters with color, but the actors provide a lot of shading. Cuenca's Sherry is tentative in the steps she is taking, yet willing to stand up for herself to make progress. Grace is a comical character, wallowing in rejection and going on burglary sprees to taunt her cheating ex-fiance. Allyn adds a number of physical nuances to bring this home; when the focus was on her, I laughed while I felt my shoulders drop in sympathy-heartache. Howell is perfectly cast as Joseph, doing his principal-ly duty by calming the students, while sweetly rekindling a romance. Plomgren is able to play the 18-year-old Zack naturally and without caricature. He expertly and subtly shows Zack's transformation under Sherry's guidance.

There's a balance here, both in the script and in the presentation (Matt M. Morrow earns praise with his direction) that allows us to feel the psychological burdens of the characters, laugh at their slightly heightened quirkiness, believe in them, and root for them. And there's a payoff for that, as we leave with that completed puzzle offering hope for the Wickmans.

Tigers Be Still by Kim Rosenstock at the City Theatre through May 6. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org/.

Photo: Suellen Fitzsimmons

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