It's sometimes said people don't know how to live anymore. The four characters in Kim Rosenstock's Tigers Be Still, now at the Off-Broad Street Theater, certainly don't know how to function.
Sherry (Anna Zaida Szapiro) has lain in bed for a month. Her sister, Grace (Felicia Leicht), has spooned with a bottle of Jack Daniels on the couch for days between bouts of stealing things from her ex-fiancé's condo. Their mother (an unseen, though central, presence) hasn't left her bedroom in a year. Joseph (Jared Michael Delaney) hides in his middle school office while his son, Zack (Trevor William Fayle), shoplifts and picks fights to avoid the anguish of a family tragedy. Depression, grief, and a sense of loss bond these separate lives.
Sherry finally leaves the house when she suddenly lands her first job (at 24), teaching art at Joseph's middle school. From this lone spark of hope, she embarks on a rescuer's quest, opening the play by announcing, "This is the story of how I stopped being a total disaster and got my life on track."
In Azuka Theatre's funny, beautifully acted, and thoroughly delightful production, Kevin Glaccum's direction blends moments of disturbing humor and optimism into an otherwise familiar tale of familial woe. Lighting designer Joshua L. Schulman's soft fades and Jay Gilman's sound design unite the television-sitcom-style vignettes, avoiding smarm by inviting smiles of recognition (the Top Gun sound track is featured throughout).
Four strong performances shape delicate but resilient characters, each overwhelmed by loss, yet yearning, however grudgingly for a reprieve. With his grayed hair and a goatee added, Delaney is unrecognizable, save for what his theatrical talent generates in sympathy for the loss he has suffered.
Szapiro energizes the production with naiveté, humor, and a perfect sense of quirky timing. Her performance is a sheer joy to watch and made me wish someone that genuine and ebullient existed in real life. Sherry may have temporarily forgotten how to live, but she's learned how to heal. Her story, of recentering after almost falling apart, acknowledges that to keep on going is not necessarily happily-ever-after. But the risks are well worth living for.
Tigers Be Still
Presented through May 25 by Azuka Theatre at the Off-Broad Street Theater, 1636 Sansom St.