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Here there be tigers

November 9, 2016
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Zack (Padraic Harrison, left) looks on as his father Joseph (Ron Lisnet) threads a needle in the Ten Bucks Theatre Company's production of "Tigers Be Still." Zack (Padraic Harrison, left) looks on as his father Joseph (Ron Lisnet) threads a needle in the Ten Bucks Theatre Company's production of "Tigers Be Still." (Photo courtesy of Ten Bucks Theatre Company)

Ten Bucks Theatre roars with 'Tigers Be Still'

EDDINGTON There's a tiger on the loose in Eddington, and believe it or not, that's the least of their problems.

Ten Bucks Theatre Company is presenting 'Tigers Be Still,' a play by Kim Rosenstock. Directed by Daniel Burson, this self-proclaimed 'serious comedy' is running at Comins Hall in Eddington through Nov. 13.

It's the story of a young woman who has managed to pull herself back from the brink, only to discover that just because you've raised yourself up doesn't necessarily mean that you're able to stay up. And while a rising tide lifts all boats, it's not always easy to be that tide for the people that you love.

Sherry (Moira Beale) has just landed her first job to go with her master's degree in art therapy. She's moved back in with her mother, but she's starting to get out from under a long-standing sense of feeling generally overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, her mother refuses to come out of her room, communicating with Sherry only via telephone. Additionally, her sister Grace (Aimee Gerow) has moved back in as well following a breakup; she discovered her fianc Troy was cheating on her with his podiatrist. She spends her time getting drunk, stealing Troy's stuff and watching 'Top Gun' over and over again.

Meanwhile, on her first day at her new teaching job, she learns from Principal Joseph (Ron Lisnet) that a tiger has escaped from the zoo and is on the loose, leaving him obsessed with maintaining the safety of the school and willing to go to a ludicrously paranoid extent to protect that safety. As if that wasn't enough, she's also been enlisted by the principal to work with his son Zack (Padraic Harrison), an angry and confused young man who struggles to deal with his emotions in a healthy manner.

Through conversations on the couch with Grace, erratically-productive sessions with Zack and awkward office meetings with Principal Joseph, Sherry tries to give every one of these people what she believes them to need. She is the one tasked with helping all of the broken people in her life find ways to mend themselves this despite being rather broken in her own right. But perhaps through fixing the damage done to others, she can figure out what needs to happen to repair herself.

There's a lot to unpack with 'Tigers Be Still.' Some pretty daunting themes are tackled here depression, loneliness, self-worth, loss but it would be a mistake to think that such an exploration would by necessity be dark. Don't get me wrong there are some dark, sad moments here but for the most part, these notions are brought into the light through humor.

In short it's funny. Like, REALLY funny. Rosenstock has found the sweet spot in terms of tone, treating the situations with honesty and depth while still mining them for laughs. It's an incredibly engaging and sophisticated script that is also unafraid to make goofy jokes about love, loss and Tom Cruise.

Director Daniel Burson has taken the tiger by the tail with this one. He's deft and clear with his choices, riding the script's tonal roller coaster with aplomb. He celebrates the story's levity while also treating the characters with respect. We laugh with them, but never at them; it's indicative of a director with a firm grasp of how things need to work, both in terms of this specific material and of the stage in general.

It doesn't hurt that he's working with a dynamite ensemble.

Beale is a bundle of wide-eyed enthusiasm, drawing from what seems like an endless reserve of positive energy. Even Sherry's down moments, Beale fills her with an inherent optimism that plays wonderfully. Harrison is spot-on as Zack; he imbues the angry young man with a degree of vulnerability that is both surprising and effective. Impotent anger is hard to play, but he does it flawlessly it might well be Harrison's best work. The dynamic between these two actors is remarkable in its genuineness; there's a sweet connection that is made even stronger by its tendency toward awkwardness.

Gerow's Grace wears her broken, bleeding heart on her sleeve. The scorned woman's over-the-top behaviors are somehow rendered justified by Gerow's commitment; her performance is razor-sharp even when blurred by nigh-constant drunkenness. Her hurt is palpable; it allows us to forgive the weird excess of her actions. And Lisnet is at his best when he can play these sorts of slightly-skewed authority figures; his presence imbues even the absurd with a sense of grounded reality. His craziness never feels less than sane.

Scenic designer Brent Hutchins has created a surprisingly functional space; there's a creativity here that allows for a good degree of flexibility. Sue Dunham Shane's lighting design completes the picture, helping complete the spatial delineation necessary to build the shifting settings of the show. And Chris Fitze's sound design does good work in filling in the sonic gaps.

'Tigers Be Still' might not be a familiar title, but don't let that lack of familiarity deter you. This is a funny, moving show, filled with moments both humorous and heartbreaking the sort of show that lingers more than you might expect.

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