Theater & Dance
Review
"Tigers Be Still"

By: Kim Rosenstock
Produced by: City Lights Theater Company
Directed by: Virginia Drake
Featuring: Keith Marshall, Akemi Okamura, Sean Okuniewicz, Melissa Weinstein
Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission
When: Januare 21 through February 21, 2016
Where: City Lights Theater Company, 529 South Second Street, San Jose, California
Tickets: $17-$35 (discounts available). Visit cltc.org or call 408-295-4200.

Melissa Weinstein
Susan Mah / City Lights Theater
Melissa Weinstein in "Tigers Be Still" at City Lights Theater Company in San Jose, running January 21 through February 21, 2016.
'Tigers Be Still' hilarious
and touching at City Lights
Excellent cast brings vibrant life
to Kim Rosenstock's meaningful play
February 2, 2016

Who knew there could be so much laughter derived from a story about four and a half people who are desperately depressed?

Playwright Kim Rosenstock gives us the jokes, and an excellent cast at City Lights Theater Company in San Jose brings them to life in "Tigers Be Still," running through February 21, 2016.

Akemi Okamura is Grace, an absolute mess after being dumped by her fiancé, Troy. Grace spends her days sucking Jack Daniels from the bottle through a straw, sleeping, and watching "Top Gun" on TV. She is surrounded by things she has stolen from Troy, from his spice rack to his Chihuahuas, which are locked in the basement, yipping away.

Keith Marshall is Joseph, a school principal who does the adult thing of seeming to have it together, while suffering deeply from worry about his son, and missing his dead wife.

Sean Okuniewicz is Zach, the son, who has anger management issues and sleeps in his dead mother's shoe closet.

Melissa Weinstein is Sherry, the beating heart of this play. She has been paralyzed by missing her father and worrying about being able to find a job as an art therapist, but as she says, "This is the story of how I stopped being a total disaster and got my life on track."

That "half" mentioned earlier is the mother to Grace and Sherry, who hasn't been seen by anybody since she decided she had gotten too fat to let anybody see her, and stays in her room, communicating only by phone. We hear her just well enough through George Psarras' excellent sound design. (Director Virginia Drake is the voice of mom.)

As the story opens, Sherry is fiddling with a model cabin built of popsicle sticks, an exemplar for the art class she will teach later that day, in her first real job. Part of that job includes counseling the principal's teenage son, who has some very funny bits in scenes showing him as a clerk in a drug store.

When Sherry is called in to the principal's office, she is afraid she will be fired, but it turns out he has something else in mind: Sherry's mother, whom he'd dated in high school (he was lost forever when he saw her bra strap). And, of course, his son.

Okamura has one of the show's funniest bits as Grace, when she drunkenly calls her ex's answering machine and sings "The Rose" to him over the phone. It's a marvelous bit that combines pathos and cruel hilarity, then gets even better.

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But the marvel of his show is the performance by Weinstein, who takes Sherry through emotions at the speed of light, changing the entire emotional truth of the story as needed, faster and more accurately than a heartbeat. It is a bravura performance. It is delightful to watch her face as she commits to each moment.

Sherry is trying to counsel Zach, sometimes bringing him to sit on her couch in her "home office," while Grace grunts and snores on the same couch. It's news to Zach that he is there for counseling — his father had told him he had been hired as Sherry's teaching assistant.

He is cruel to her, at first, about how bad her classes are — some of his students escaped through the window while her back was turned, he tells her. Sherry is desperate in her desire to do some good, and to keep her job.

She and Zach have a break-through when he enlists her help in rescuing the Chihuahuas.

Marshall is rock solid in his role, creating a man who is almost mystified by his aches, but who just keeps trying to make things right for Zach. Very touching, while still comedic.

Drake's direction keeps the play moving at a fast but comfortable pace, giving us just enough time to keep track of story lines and emotions. Ron Gasparinetti's scenic design, Christina Sturken's properties design and Anna Chase's costumes keep it all absolutely real.

A fine show.

Email John Orr at johnorr@regardingarts.com

Weinstein, Okamura
Susan Mah / City Lights Theater
Melissa Weinstein, left, and Akemi Okamura in "Tigers Be Still" at City Lights Theater Company in San Jose, running January 21 through February 21, 2016.
Okamura, Okuniewicz
Susan Mah / City Lights Theater
Akemi Okamura, left, and Sean Okuniewicz in "Tigers Be Still" at City Lights Theater Company in San Jose, running January 21 through February 21, 2016.
Marshall, Okuniewiecz
Susan Mah / City Lights Theater
Keith Marshall, left, and Sean Okuniewicz in "Tigers Be Still" at City Lights Theater Company in San Jose, running January 21 through February 21, 2016.


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