There's something very funny going on at the Dallas Theater Center and not just the latest play: Tigers Be Still by Kim Rosenstock and directed by Hal Brooks. It's not how funny it is but how it is funny: a whole 90-minute direct-from-off-Broadway comedy without a sardonic bone in its body. The opening night audience wondered allowed afterwards at the sweetness of the show as if they couldn't remember when humor was hopeful. Tigers may herald the dawning of a new day in American theater. Rise and shine.
Our protagonist, Sherry (Abbey Siegworth) is delightfully guileless much like Jess from the television show New Girl for which Ms. Rosenstock writes. Sherry is turning her life around. She's got a job as an art teacher and a client as an art therapist. Her Principal, Joseph, (Chamblee Ferguson) at the school is also the parent of the client, Zack (Christopher Sykes).
The connections don't end there. It turns out that Joseph is the old flame of Sherry's now shut-in mother. Sherry's sister, Grace (Aleisha Force) isn't much for going out either unless it is to steal some more things from her ex-fiance. Not that going out is such a hot idea considering there's an escaped tiger on the loose.
It's a wonderfully complicated mess and Sherry's efforts on all fronts seem naïve and ineffectual. At first, this seems to be another play about a person believing what they were told growing up and then finding out the world is more difficult and complicated than they were lead to believe. But then, it's not. Little by little, she makes inroads with her boss, her sister and her client. She is just as surprised at her successes as we are.
Abbey Siegworth is earnest and charming as Sherry. Not since Shirley sang to Laverne about the ant and the rubber tree plant has there been such a powerful Pollyanna, but Siegworth can pull it off. Sykes as Zack provides the adolescent attitude necessary to counter her positivity. Their chemistry successfully traces the delicate balance between successful therapy and unintentional romance.
The intentional romance belongs to Ferguson as Joseph, a widower who remembers Sherry's mother with awesome reverence. Ferguson is back in fine funny form here but it's a result of intense delivery of good writing instead of zany antics. Ms. Rosenstock's has set it up so that the love hurts help us laugh. Consequently, Aleisha Force wins the evening's laugh tally. She delivers her character's big hurts with even bigger intensity for the biggest laughs.
This play, which is performed in the sixth floor Studio Theatre at the Wyly Theatre, may not end up being an important contribution to the history of American theater but as a single-set, four-person comedy, it will get produced, a lot. But it may not work as well everywhere for everyone. The trick will be in the tone. Director Brooks manages to steer his cast around the sarcasm chasm. It's not as easy as it sounds.
Try saying something overtly positive without any barbs at all. It's like trying to get a tiger to be still.