Tigers at Zeitgeist; Yesterday at Central Square

Eat my brain
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  April 25, 2012

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TIGERS BE STILL Becca A. Lewis (here with Zach Winston) is the lovably eccentric art therapist at the heart of this tale straddling the borders of sitcom and surrealism. 

Forget the elephant in the room. Depression is a big cat in Tigers Be Still, a relentlessly quirky yet endearing screwball tragicomedy by Kim Rosenstock that debuted at New York's Roundabout Underground in 2010 and is getting a sweet Boston premiere by Zeitgeist Stage Company (at the BCA Black Box through May 5). Now a writer for the Fox sitcom New Girl, Rosenstock the dramatist bears deep imprints of her Yale mentor, Pulitzer-winning queen of quirk Paula Vogel, as well as of fellow Vogel protégé Adam Bock, whose Swimming in the Shallows counts among its characters a shark. But Bock's insouciant predator cruises an aquarium tank; Rosenstock's tiger has escaped from a zoo. And though the beast has been on the loose for a while, it seems the least of the play's small, wounded community's problems.

Director David J. Miller chose Tigers knowing he had in actor Becca A. Lewis a perfect Sherry Wickman, the lovably eccentric art therapist at the heart of the tale — which she narrates. Appearing in the cluttered living room of her childhood home a bright vision in fuchsia, turquoise, and nerdy glasses, she announces that "this is the story of how I stopped being a total disaster and got my life on track, and did not let overwhelming feelings of anxiousness and loneliness and uselessness just, like, totally eat my brain."

Trouble is, Sherry is surrounded by total disasters including a mother so depressed by steroid-induced weight gain that she won't leave her room and a sister who has careered from a broken engagement into a haze of Jack Daniels, Bette Midler, and Top Gun. She's out of her room but won't leave the couch – which is inconvenient because, as an adjunct to her new job as an art teacher, Sherry needs the parlor to perform art therapy on her principal's pent-up son, whose mother died in a car accident. And the principal, fat mom's onetime love, is also toting a fat load of grief — and a gun.

Rosenstock deftly handles this dust-up at the border of sitcom and surrealism, and so does director Miller, orchestrating a performance that's more deeply felt than clownish, with Kelley Estes embracing embarrassment as the soused sister, Zach Winston a hulking mix of deadpan and pain as the teen, and Peter Brown a pillar of stoic absurdity as the principal. The tiger does not appear, but neither, however it lurks, does cliché.

CIRCULAR REASONING

What ate Henry Molaison's brain — or at least the part of it where memory is served — was surgery. In 1953, at the age of 27, the amiable subject of Yesterday Happened: Remembering H.M. (in its world premiere by Catalyst Collaborative@MIT and Underground Railway Theater at Central Square Theater through May 13), underwent an experimental operation aimed at putting an end to his epileptic seizures. But to neuroscientists' surprise, the removal of the guy's hippocampus also removed his ability to form memories. He spent the next 55 years being studied by the white coats as he woke to every moment new.

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