BWW Reviews: Public Theatre Explores the Absurd Side of Dysfunction

BWW Reviews: Public Theatre Explores the Absurd Side of Dysfunction

Lewiston's Public Theatre has mounted a stylish, wistful, zany production of Kim Rosenstock's Tigers Be Still, a bittersweet comedy that looks at the absurd side of dysfunction.

The play, which had its premiere at New York's Roundabout Theatre, tells the intertwined stories of two families who have been immobilized by loss and their struggle to emerge from depression and move forward with their lives. Narrated by the daughter Sherry, whose recently acquired job as an art therapist gives her the impetus to shake her gloom, the play draws an ironic contrast between Sherry's newfound optimism and the darker realities of the other characters. Ever lurking in the background is the metaphorical - and actual - threat of a tiger escaped from the zoo - the nameless fear that paralyzes action until at last confronted toward the end of the play.

Rosenstock has a delightful ear for dialogue and the knack to let the comedy teeter on the edge of a darker reality. For the most part, so, too, does director Christopher Schario, though one sometimes feels that he allows opportunities to feel the sharp impact of painful revelations to be glossed over quickly in favor of the next laugh. Rosenstock's comedy needs a more dangerous context if it is not to be trivialized. That said, however, Schario imparts a strong sense of individualized character to his actors, and he moves the action with a deft hand.

The quartet of actors displays a fine sense of timing and conjures up the contrasting interplay of their roles. Anna O'Donoghue is a youthful, frenetic Sherry, whose perennial perkiness has an almost manic aspect to it. As her jilted sister Grace, who now spends her days drinking whiskey and plotting her revenge on her ex-fiancé, Rebecca Hart gives a bold and wickedly amusing performance without ever losing sight of the character's underlying pathos. Joseph Tisa as the widowed school principal, Joseph, effectively portrays the weary, defeated father, who yearns to be the prom king he once was. Tisa conveys the helplessness and gentle despair of the character so well that his decision to pursue his old romance at the end of the play becomes a quiet act of courage. Perhaps the strongest performance comes from Noah Witke as Zack, Joseph's rudderless son. Witke mingles anger with biting humor, and, for the most part, achieves the balance needed for Rosenstock's text, though the revelation that he is responsible for his mother's death might ideally call for a little more vulnerability.

Making optimum use of the theatre's space, the unit set by Kit Mayer is visually attractive and evocative of the chaos in the lives of the characters. Joan Mather's costumes are simple and expressive, though one wonders why Sherry never once changes attire - even in the simplest of suggestions - and the others do. Bart Garvey's lighting add dimension and color to the production, while Larry French's sound design, including the three karaoke songs Grace sings, is delightfully balanced and rounds out the attractive production.

In the Public Theatre's season of largely comic works, Tigers Be Still offers a quirky and endearing look at human weakness, folly, and ultimate resurgence.

Photo Courtesy of The Public Theatre

The Public Theatre, 21 Maple Street, Lewiston, Maine, Christopher Schario, Executive/Artistic Director

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Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold Born and raised in the metropolitan New York area, Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold took her degrees at Sarah Lawrence College and Fairleigh Dickinson University. She began her career as a teacher and arts administrator before becoming a journalist, critic, and author. In addition to contributing to Broadway World, her theatre, film, music and visual arts reviews and features have appeared in Fanfare Magazine, Scene 4 Magazine, Talkin’ Broadway, Opera News, Gramophone, Opéra International, Opera, Music Magazine, Beaux Arts, and The Crisis, and her byline has headed numerous program essays and record liner notes. She also authors the blog, Stage, Screen, and Song ( Among her scholarly works, the best known is We Need A Hero! Heldentenors from Wagner’s Time to the Present: A Critical History. She helped to create several television projects, serving as associate producer and content consultant/writer, among them I Hear America Singing for WNET/PBS and Voices of the Heart: Stephen Fosterfor German television. Her first novel, Raising Rufus: A Maine Love Story appeared in 2010. Her screenplay version of the book was the 2011 Grand Prize Winner at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. She is also the author of a second novel, The Whaler's bride, and a collection of short stories, BOOKENDS Stories of Love, Loss, and Renewal. Ms. Verdino-Süllwold now makes her home in Brunswick, Maine.

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