At first glance, Boise Contemporary Theater's Tigers Be Still feels like a familiar TV comedy. Protagonist Sherry is a quirky 20-something art therapist who has recently moved back in with her parents and is searching for direction. Her supporting cast is a ragtag team of lovable misfits: a Jack Daniels-spooning sister with a Top Gun obsession, a hermit mother who won't leave her room, a young patient with anger-management issues and his father, a widowed middle-school principal with a fondness for butterscotch candies.
BCT's uncharacteristically elaborate set also screams sitcom. There's a dining room with lingering feminine flourishes, a cluttered basement couch "that smells like tears," and a dated school office, its shelves stacked high with books and files. Stringing these three sprawling sets together is a winding sidewalk and rows of miniature suburban homes on strips of Astroturf.
But while the play's author, Kim Rosenstock, has a background in TV writing for Fox's "New Girl," Tigers Be Still is not primed for prime time. Lurking just below Rosenstock's eccentric plot and hilarious dialogue is a much darker theme that would likely flounder a serial format: depression.
Her characters' major triumphs are seemingly minor: getting out of bed, leaving the couch, having a conversation. While Sherry, played with a little too much enthusiasm by BCT newcomer Lina Chambers, has wrestled free from the clutches of sadness after landing a job as an art teacher, her sister Grace (Cassie Moloney) is being swallowed by--and swallowing --it. Recently dumped by a cheating fiancee, Grace provides a hilariously morose, mailman-seducing foil to Sherry's grinning good girl.
But the play's truly moving performances are given by the grieving father-son duo of Joseph (Arthur Glen Hughes) and Zack (Evan Sesek). Hughes imbues Joseph with a tragic earnestness, while Sesek perfectly channels the mercurial highs and lows of adolescence, vacillating between silence, sarcasm and lightning bolts of rage.
Despite these dark themes, Tigers Be Still isn't itself depressing. Rosenstock's script is consistently witty without being overly cutesy. At the beginning of the play, Joseph calls an assembly to tell students that a tiger has escaped from the nearby zoo.
"Here are the things I know about tigers," he says authoritatively. "They're fast, they're big, they're mean and they have stripes."
Though the play's characters are just as clueless about the snarling emotional tigers they have lurking inside, it's a treat to watch as they try to tame them. Tear yourself away from a night of trite TV to see this tender production; it's some of BCT's best work in recent memory.