By Manning Harris

If you’re looking for a theatre experience outside the loop (in this case Lawrenceville), the Aurora Theatre’s Harvel Lab Series is currently presenting Kim Rosenstock’s charming comedy/drama “Tigers Be Still,” directed by Justin Anderson, and running through September 30.

The play had its off-Broadway debut in 2010 at the Roundabout Theatre and Ms. Rosenstock, a rising young playwright, has had her work developed and performed at some very prestigious national theatres.

It’s easy to see why.  “Tigers” has been called a comedy of suburban dysfunction, and it is, but it’s more than that.  Sherry (Sarah Elizabeth Wallis), a 24-year-old woman, has recently landed her first job as an art teacher/therapist and begins the proceedings by announcing, with the jittery bravado of a novice stand-up comic, “This is the story of how I stopped being a total disaster and got my life on track.”

And not a moment too soon.  For Sherry is surrounded by the walking wounded:  folks putting up a brave front (mostly), but clearly in need of help.  There’s Zack (Barrett Doyle), 18, who’s about to lose his job at CVS because of anger issues.  In truth, he’s recently lost his mother, and neither he nor his father Joseph (Jayson Smith), a school principal and Sherry’s employer, are dealing with the loss very well.  Sherry got her job (in part) because she agreed to be Zack’s therapist.

Their therapy sessions are at her house, where her sister Grace (Abby Parker) is currently holding court on the living room sofa with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and endless showings of “Top Gun” for company.  She’s recently left her cheating fiancé and stolen his karaoke machine and two Chihuahuas.  She is awash in sorrow and self-pity and would quickly grow tiring to watch were it not for Ms. Parker’s comic gifts.  Oh, yes, their mother has barricaded herself in her room upstairs and will only communicate by telephone.  She never appears.

Anything else?  Yes, a tiger is on the lam from the local zoo and could be anywhere, but that seems the least of anyone’s problems.

Of course you realize that all of us human beings are doing our best to keep our inner tigers at bay; Ms. Rosenstock has created a hard-to-miss but very effective metaphor.  It reminds me of a line from Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer”:  “We’re all of us children in a vast kindergarten trying to spell God’s name with the wrong alphabet blocks.”

Director Anderson has cast the play extremely well and does a seamless job of keeping the pace moving nicely; he also makes excellent use of the space in Aurora’s Lab (or black box) Theatre.  There’s a purity about intimate theatre that I find very refreshing.  The show runs about one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission, and there’s not a dull moment.

The four actors are very fine: Barrett Doyle’s Zack is initially guarded and surly; but his late mother’s shoe closet scene may break your heart.  As I mentioned, it’s a tribute to Ms. Parker’s talent that we don’t get tired of her TV and Jack Daniels; Jayson Smith’s starched Joseph (“I don’t have a buddy; I have a rifle”) thankfully loosens up a bit and gathers the courage to confront his past; and the resilient, determined Sherry (Ms. Wallis) won’t give up on anybody—including her sister—or us.

“Tigers Be Still” is definitely worth a visit; I understand it may sell out its last week; I’d get my tickets now.

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Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.