Halley Feiffer and Natasha Lyonne in Tigers Be Still
(© Joan Marcus)
Halley Feiffer and Natasha Lyonne in Tigers Be Still
(© Joan Marcus)
Tigers Be Still, by Kim Rosenstock, is a sweet little comedy about depression. Presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company as part of its Underground series, the oddly enchanting play is smoothly directed by Sam Gold, and brought to life by an excellent cast of four that get their share of laughs, but don't ever let you forget the sadness in each of their characters' lives.

At the center of the narrative is Sherry (Halley Feiffer), an art therapist who is embarking upon a new job, after spending a month moping around the house she shares with her older sister Grace (Natasha Lyonne) and their unseen mother. All three women have been dealing with issues of depression; her mother won't even come out of her room or let anyone see her, while Grace continues to spend her days on the couch watching the movie Top Gun over and over, or going to her ex-boyfriend's condo to steal more of his stuff in the vain effort that it will at least make him give her a call.

In addition to her regular classroom duties at Oceanside Middle School, Sherry's boss, Principal Joseph Moore (Reed Birney) has asked Sherry to work one-on-one with his teenage son Zack (John Magaro), who is still reeling from the recent death of his mother. The issues that all the characters are dealing with are deadly serious, but Rosenstock's idiosyncratic dialogue lets us laugh at their pain while cheering on their recovery.

Feiffer walks a fine line between eagerness and desperation as Sherry; her portrayal verges on caricature, and yet the performance is inhabited so fully that it seems just right. Lyonne inspires laughter with just a shift in facial expression or body position. Birney brings a quiet poignancy to several of his interactions with both Sherry and Zack, and one of the funniest moments in the play comes from his reaction to a rather cryptic message that Sherry's mother has asked her to pass on to him. Magaro plays the part of a disaffected youth extremely well, but he's also capable of showing the emotional fragility that lies just underneath the surface of Zack's seeming indifference.

Dane Laffrey's realistically-crafted set is fine for the scenes set in Sherry's living room, but isn't really versatile enough to accommodate the various locations that the play calls for. However, the designer's costumes are spot-on, particularly his get-up for Birney's final scene, which tells you everything you need to know about the character's state of mind at that moment.