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By Beki Pineda

TIGERS BE STILL. Written by Kim Rosenstock; directed by John Ashton. Produced by the Avenue Theatre (417 E. 17th Ave., Denver) through April 2. Tickets available at 303-321-5925 or www.avenuetheater.com.

A tale of how families pull together. A pair of sisters facing disillusionment and heartbreak find ways to get through this rough patch and help themselves and their unseen mother, who is going through her own personal crisis upstairs in her bedroom. A second family—father and son—are coping with the loss of their wife/mother. Sherry (played by Olive McGowen) is a wise young art therapist whose common sense and loving approach to everyone’s problems guides them all—and herself—toward “happier ever after”s.

One of the hardest things about acting is making dialogue sound impromptu and natural. Speak too fast and the lines could come out sounding spoken by rote or without thought. Linger over the words and the pacing becomes slow. That fine line toward naturalness is so hard to walk. It’s a little game between the cast and the audience. We know they’ve been rehearsing for weeks and have said the lines dozens of times before. But we want to believe that they are saying them for the first time for us—that these lines just now came into their heads as they spoke them.

This cast provides examples of both the natural and the studied. Mark Collins plays the father and principal of the school where Sherry is an art therapist with a wounded but determined air of resolve. Michael Kosko, as his son, shows his grief with anger and stubbornness that gradually give way to resignation under Sherry’s therapeutic guidance. There is an easy naturalness to their interaction with each other and the other cast members that belies rehearsal. Even the pauses have meaning.

The sisters (Olive McGowen and Christine Shutt) share affection for each other and their never-seen mother. Sherry’s understanding and frustration over her sister’s erratic behavior after her night-before-the-wedding breakup with her boyfriend are also evident. However, the actors at times paused their dialogue to the point that the audience was lifted out of the scene and left to wonder if someone had forgotten a line. That isn’t to say that it isn’t a charming play with a heartwarming twist to the ending. This viewer could have just used a little less facial gymnastics and a more facile approach to the storytelling.

Stuart Barr designed a versatile set for the small Avenue stage. There’s even every woman’s dream shoe closet, which provides a setting for a “gentleman caller” scene between Sherry and her young patient. The lighting design by Steve Tangedal moves us gently from one scene into the next.

WOW factor: 8