Dramatic Rep digs deep for catharsis

Finding the Tigers within
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  November 2, 2011

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EMOTIONAL RANGE The Dramatic Rep company covers the spectrum.

Today is a good day for twenty-something Sherry (Casey Turner): She's out of bed, over her depression, and starting her first-ever job as an elementary art teacher and art therapist. "Good" is a relative adjective, though. Both her mom and her sister Grace (Colleen A. Madden) remain embedded, literally, in dysfunction; her art therapy patient won't draw his homework; and an escaped tiger is prowling around somewhere. It's up to Sherry, bravely if precariously perky, to keep it all together in Kim Rosenstock's very likeable comedy Tigers Be Still, sharply and sympathetically acted under director Keith Powell Beyland for the Dramatic Repertory Company.

Ever since a medication caused her to gain 60 pounds, Sherry and Grace's mother has kept herself locked in her bedroom for months, refusing to see even her daughters, and as a result their father has left. For almost as long, Grace, whose fiancé cheated on her, has been camped out on the living room sofa surrounded by boxes of his belongings, seeking succor in Jack Daniel's and an endless loop of Top Gun. It's all Sherry can do to get her to vacate for an hour so she can meet with her "patient," an 18-year-old serial drug-store employee named Zack (Jesse Leighton), the son of her boss Joseph (Jaimie Schwartz), the recently widowed school principal and an old flame of Sherry's cloistered mom. Grace does not deal gracefully with Sherry's newfound motivation. "I liked you better when you were unemployed," she sulks. "You were a much better listener."

Playwright Rosenstock subtitles her script "a serious comedy," and many of its laugh lines have the same funny-'cause-it's-true-but-sad quality of Grace's company-loving misery. The humor of Tigers is a tempering vehicle for everyone's worry and hurt, and Beyland's cast combines some keen comic timing with feeling for their characters' plights. Madden's Grace has some of the most outrageous lines and behavior to deliver — e.g., her reasons to consider sleeping with the 70-year-old mailman; her passion for the drama of a Depends commercial — and she delivers them with a wryness that betrays self-knowledge somewhere beneath the self-pity. Zack's wise-ass wariness, in Leighton's hands, sees through Sherry's good face but restrains the brunt of his barbs; as his dad, Schwartz has gentle fun with the principal's awkward cluelessness without burying the decency within.

In red granny glasses, Turner, a young actress whose range and sensitivity continue to astound me (you might have seen her harrowing performance in Killer Joe), has remarkable nuance as the sweet, slightly nerdy fixer of the family. She is funny, deft, and very affecting as she bookends everything Sherry says with smiles and half-laughs meant to keep any unpleasant chaos — including her own — in abeyance.

But seriousness does burn through the comedy, and Beyland's cast plays these moments with poignant restraint. Schwartz has a fine scene in which Joseph sits with Zack, who's ignoring him behind a book: Father takes tentative bites out of a tinfoil meal in between equally tentative attempts to draw out his son. There's a lot of silence, and Schwartz lets it swell beautifully around his careful chewing, resisting the urge to fill it with slapstick.

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