PORTLAND – Though an escaped big cat does figure in the season opener from the Dramatic Repertory Company, the dangers more central to the play are to be found within the psyches of its human characters.
“Tigers Be Still,” by Kim Rosenstock, is accurately billed as a “serious comedy.”
It deals with the debilitating effects of depression but employs a mostly light touch. The characters, at times, despair quite movingly but also evince just enough quirkiness to make them both laughable and endearing.
Directed by Keith Powell Beyland, the DRC production of “Tigers” separates 23 scenes by blackouts filled with pop and rock songs that echo the themes being addressed.
Based on Friday’s performance, there were only a couple of scenes that seemed to exhaust their content a moment or two before the lights went down. Most were gemlike little illustrations of how people sometimes struggle hard, if in different ways, to cope with lost parents, loves, jobs and hope.
Casey Turner takes the lead role of Sherry, who’s just beginning to function in a new job after spending a great deal of time unemployed and depressed. Her persistent little trying-too-hard smile can annoy people but has powers even she doesn’t fully recognize.
Turner was excellent as a sweetheart who occasionally pops out from her attempts to help her inconsolable sister and profoundly unhappy mother to narrate a bit of back story about how things got to that point. Turner was particularly touching in a nearly wordless scene where Sherry tries to explain why her father left the household.
Colleen A. Madden plays the sister who can’t get over the end of a relationship. She’s a challenge for her sister to help, particularly when she strikingly explodes in anger in scenes that jar the play past cute and predictable. Madden very believably carries off her gradual reawakening.
Jaimie Schwartz and Jesse Leighton play a father and son dealing with their own monumental tragedy. They too become subjects for the often-telling observations of the subtly resourceful Sherry.
A flashlight-lit scene between Turner and Leighton was particularly effective while Schwartz allows only glimpses of his troubles.
It could be said that things tidy up a little too neatly in the 100-minute play. But it would be hard to argue that the likable characters don’t deserve it.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.