Kim Rosenstock, a writer for the Fox sitcom “New Girl,” launched her career with the play “Tigers Be Still,” first produced in New York in 2010. As Chance Theater’s regional premiere of this bumpy but ultimately charming dark comedy demonstrates, Rosenstock was chronicling the malaise of her generation with clear eyes, sympathy and quirky wit, well before journalists started writing about “millennial burnout."
“Exactly one month ago, all of the women in my family were in bed. All the time,” Sherry (Piper Power), the play’s endearingly dorky protagonist, tells the audience. Her mother shut herself in her room. Her sister, Grace (Erica Farnsworth), crawled home after a breakup to drink Jack Daniels and watch “Top Gun.” Sherry, a recent college graduate with a degree in art therapy, sent out her résumé, heard nothing back and gave up hope of ever finding work in her field — or any field at all.
But then Sherry got a job, an actual job, provided by Joseph (Steven Biggs), an old friend of her mother, who hired her to teach art at his elementary school and to counsel his troubled son, Zack (Joseph Bricker). And so Sherry is out of bed and ready to fix the world's problems. “I hope it will be an inspirational tale of triumph,” she says of the story to follow.
Sitcoms haven’t prepared Gen Y for how tedious and difficult life can be: appointments, forms, deadlines, miscommunications — the pervasive existential horror. Sherry’s new art students find her popsicle-stick-house project stupid. Zack’s problems are serious. Grace won’t get off the couch; Mom won’t come downstairs. And to make the world even more menacing, a tiger has escaped the zoo.
The script has weakness in tone (its jocosity can feel a little heartless) and in plotting, and this revival is occasionally more effective in showing off defects than in playing up charms. Under Marya Mazor’s direction, the cast initially seems desperate for laughs, so much so that they squash the jokes.
Some design choices are puzzling. Bradley Kaye's set is a human-sized popsicle-stick house, but why the reference to Sherry’s pet art project? What is the metaphor? And why are the sticks that make up the house dark brown, when the art-class sticks are unstained? An audience doesn’t need this distraction.
By the second half, the production gels. The jokes start to land, and the story — if never quite “an inspirational tale of triumph” — becomes uplifting, like a millennial “Cold Comfort Farm,” as Sherry battles the insidious temptations of the couch while helping her friends and family out of their slumps too — releasing them not into a future of bliss, just an exhausting-but-sometimes-funny real life.
‘Tigers Be Still’
Where: Chance Theater, 5522 La Palma Ave., Anaheim
When: 7:45 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2:45 p.m. Sundays, through June 2
Info: (888) 455-4212 or ChanceTheater.com
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes