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Tigers Be Still -- Theater Review

"Tigers Be Still"

The Bottom Line

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Sherry (Halley Feiffer), the young high school art teacher who is the central character in Kim Rosenstock's "Tigers Be Still," certainly has her hands full.

Her mother refuses to leave her bed after being abandoned by Sherry's father, communicating only by telephone; her sister Grace (Natasha Lyonne), despondent over a recent breakup with her fiance, has retreated to the couch in a boozy haze; her principal, Joseph (Reed Birney), is in mourning over his wife's death; and the student whom she's tutoring, Joseph's teenage son Zack (John Magaro), has anger-management issues.

To top it off, a tiger has escaped from the local zoo, setting the entire town on edge.

That all of this angst is rendered in a consistently amusing manner is a testament to the burgeoning talents of the young playwright, whose work is being presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company's showcase for emerging artists.

Not everything in this occasionally raw effort works, as evidenced by that all-too-obvious tiger-on-the-loose metaphor. But from the play's opening, in which Sherry awkwardly but charmingly delivers a karaoke rendition of "Holiday," to its hopeful final moments, it reveals the playwright's knack for effectively blending humor and pathos.

Under the skillful direction of Sam Gold, who has made a name for himself with such acclaimed off-Broadway productions as "Circle Mirror Transformation" and "The Aliens," the first-rate ensemble mines the rich material for all it's worth. Feiffer's Sherry is charmingly geeky and vulnerable; Birney quietly conveys the pathos of moments like when his character cancels his dead wife's magazine subscription; and Magaro finds unexpected comic-grace notes in what could have been a stereotypical troubled teen.

But the real standout is Lyonne ("Slums of Beverly Hills," "American Pie"), consistently hilarious whether she's clutching a bottle of Jack Daniel's as if it was a baby's bottle or drunkenly warbling along to Bette Midler's "The Rose." "Tiger" continues the career renaissance of the formerly troubled actress, who earlier this decade was in jail, hospitals and rehab.

Venue: Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre/Black Box Theatre, New York (Through Nov. 21)
Presented by: Roundabout Theatre Company
Cast: Reed Birney, Halley Feiffer, Natasha Lyonne, John Magaro
Playwright: Kim Rosenstock
Director: Sam Gold
Set/costume designer: Dane Laffrey
Lighting designer: Japhy Weideman
Sound designer: Fitz Patton