Brilliant cast brings humor and energy to lackluster play

Cap & Bells staged its final show of the year this weekend with “a comedy about depression,” titled Tigers Be Still. Performed both Friday and Saturday night on the ‘62 CenterStage, Tigers was an excellent display of student talent, both on stage and behind the scenes, despite being a rather odd play in itself.

Consisting of a small cast of four, Tigers Be Still follows the life of two families. The protagonist Sherry, portrayed by Justine Neubarth ’13, is part of one family alongside her sister Grace, played by Petra Mijanovic ’14, and their off-stage mother. At the outset, Sherry has just come out of a debilitating depression brought on by her prolonged unemployment after graduating from college. Additionally, her sister has just caught her fiancé cheating on her and is still couch-bound with grief. In the second family, the situation is not any less grim. Joseph, played by Frank Pagliaro ’14, is a middle school principal and father to his teenage son Zack, played by Tallis Moore ’14. Joseph’s wife recently died, so he decides to utilize Sherry’s art therapy skills to try and get Zack back on his feet.

As somber as the plot sounds, this play ultimately is, as self-described, a comedy. Mijanovic’s portrayal of Grace had the audience laughing the whole night: Grace stays on the couch throughout Zack and Sherry’s “therapy sessions” clutching a bottle of Jack Daniels and watching the love scene from Top Gun on replay. She also continues to steal items from her ex-fiancé’s apartment, including his two chihuahuas, which are locked in the basement for most of the play. Mijanovic hit Grace’s flair for the dramatic on the head and made for a truly memorable character.

Neubarth and Moore also had great comedic chemistry in all of their scenes together. Moore’s depiction of an apathetic teenage boy was one that many audience members were familiar with: His demonstration to Sherry’s art class on how to make a popsicle stick basketball hoop was one of the most hilarious scenes of the show. Neubarth, on the other hand, played an overeager and exceedingly positive character whose inability to “take a hint” when Zack was not interested or to give up when all seemed lost was endearing. Together, Neubarth and Moore proved to be exceedingly funny and had good timing in both the joking and fighting conversations between them.

Pagliaro’s character had the most significant resonance in the theme  of depression. His character, Joseph, is a dad trying to recover from the loss of his wife while helping his son deal with the loss of his mother, and Pagliaro was able to convey this conflict in a very real and heartwarming way. Little moments, like trying and failing to cook his son dinner or attempting to learn how to sew, were both funny and touching as he attempted to keep his family together.

At this point in the plot summary you may find yourself asking, “Where is the tiger?” The tiger escaped from a local zoo at the very beginning of the play and was said to be “roaming the streets” throughout the rest of the work. The tiger serves as an in-your-face symbol of depression. Just as the escaped tiger is a vicious animal out of control in the town, grief is an uncontrollable force that takes hold of the characters in the play. Unfortunately, the tiger did more harm than good for the play, serving only as a too-obvious metaphor that didn’t actually affect the lives of the characters in a significant way.

While the cast and set of the show were spectacular, the play itself fell a little short. Written early in Kim Rosenstock’s career, Tigers Be Still didn’t quite have the emotional quality that I was looking for, even in a comedy. This was not a failing of director Lily Riopelle ’14 or her cast, but merely a fault of the play and dialogue itself. The ending was a little too neat and tidy for a play about the reality of depression, and not even a tiger metaphor could help bring those emotions to life for the audience. I appreciated the scenes where these emotions were obvious, such as when Pagliaro and Moore sat awkwardly at the dinner table trying to discuss knocking down the mother’s shoe closet that Moore’s character loved so much, and would have liked to see more of them.

The light-hearted nature of this play was wonderful and Riopelle did a great job of helping her cast develop their characters into full-bodied people. The relationships between the characters were probably the most interesting aspect of the show, which is why I wanted to see them in scenes where the true depth of their grief, or recovery, could have been explored in addition to the more comedic aspects of the play.