Young playwrights play the old shell game with their work these days. They write a TV sitcom pilot or a screenplay but try to pass it off as a piece for the stage. It's easier to get plays done and theater producers are always on the prowl for the next hot, young playwright.
And that's how you end up with a major production of Tigers Be Still by Kim Rosenstock. She's on the writing staff of the Fox comedy New Girl, for which this play could almost serve as a "very special episode."
Cutesy as hell but trying to communicate some meaningful message about mental health, Tigers Be Still, onstage through May 13 in the Wyly Theatre's upstairs Studio space, expects the audience not to notice its thin sitcom-like structure. Between the quick-cut scenes and breathy monologues, you can feel where the commercial breaks would fall.
DTC acting company member Abbey Siegworth plays the lead, a recent college grad named Sherry. She's landed a job as a high school art therapist, but she's also the main caretaker for her dysfunctional family. Mom's become bed-bound from weight gain and won't come downstairs (we never see her). Sis (Aleisha Force) has moved back home after a break-up and does little but drink Jack Daniel's and watch Top Gun from a prone position on the living room sofa. Dad's out of the picture.
Everyone speaks directly to the audience in Tigers Be Still, telling you what's happening as it's happening. Rosenstock, a playwright Kevin Moriarty has signed to develop shows for DTC, works with words in the predictable, desperate-for-laughs rhythms of television comedy. Every line is precocious; every bit of business is something you've seen somewhere before (Seinfeld, Sex & the City, That Girl).
The tiger in the title is a real but unseen animal, escaped from a local zoo and on the loose in the city park. It's an overused metaphor, this beast, representing the innate desire the escape our emotional cages.
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The cast here is better than the material, particularly Force, an SMU acting student who moves her character in slow-mo, as if wearing her depression as a lead poncho. Playing the troubled kid doing art therapy for anger control is young Christopher Sykes. He's another find, actingwise. His character, Zack, has a quiet scene in his mom's shoe closet, sharing secrets with therapist Sherry in the few minutes of this play that rise above breathless whimsy. Even that sequence feels like a rerun of an Angela Chase moment from My So-Called Life.
Directed by Hal Brooks, this play approaches the serious topic of chronic depression with all the gravitas of Saved by the Bell.
Tigers Be Still continues through May 13 at the Studio at Wyly Theatre. Call 214-880-0202.