Lights up on Azuka’s 3rd Annual Virgina and Harvey Kimmel’s New Professionals production of Kim Rosenstock’s cripplingly funny Tigers Be Still, the clear-eyed Anna Zaida Szapiro hijacks the Off Broad Street Theatre’s stage in her debut performance as Sherry Wickman unflinchingly addressing the audience: “This is the story of how I got my life —.“ Sherry is calling dibs on her own life, defiantly carving out her own story standing on the living room carpet of her childhood home. Her sister Grace (the delectably dead pan Felicia Leicht) dumped by her fiancé and distraught, lost under a sea of blankets, hugging a bottle of Jack Daniels to her chest on the couch. Her mother is camped out upstairs too paralyzed with panic to leave her room. Sherry’s father is just gone. The most poignant moment in this play is when Sherry announces: “This is the story of why my father left, and then:
The audience is hit with dead air-silence. Sherry is more than just an expectant young woman headed out the door optimistic to work her first full day as an art teacher. Outside her door there is technically a potentially destructive tiger on the loose in Sherry’s small suburban town. But, hi: the Tiger is a metaphor for the frightening state of the American economy or the horrific job market that recent college graduates like Sherry face when entering the work force. Rosenstock set in this play in the present, and minimum wage in Philadelphia alone is $7.25 an hour. According to the 2012 Census data more than 7 percent of American workers live well below the federal poverty line. Sherry is setting off to work as an art teacher so the most she can make if she is lucky is $23,000 a year. She is the only person in her family who is capable of putting one foot in front of the other to even exit through the front door.
Szapiro’s Sherry shoulders the pressure but does not buckle under it. The only thing hobbled by the strain of Sherry’s external environment is her fashion sense. Costume designer Rachel Coon, dresses Sherry in a vermillion blouse for her first day of work coupled with a sad brown patterned skirt. This outfit screams desperately: “Ah! I have no money because I have yet to get a paycheck, and I have not been out of the house in a month, and I have barely enough time to look at myself in the mirror, because I am taking care of everything and everyone around me all the time.” Disregarding the depressing clothes on her back she moves smooth like an optimistic steel-eyed shark determined to build a life for herself, despite everything, or everyone falling down around her propelling the action a catalyst of her own story. Is this a comedy? Of course it is. It has to be. These characters are so hobbled by grief they would not be able to walk if they couldn’t laugh about it.
The lion share of the funny in this play falls on the young shoulders of Trevor William Fayle, but do not worry Fayle’s got this. You will laugh at this play. I promise.
Jared Michael Delaney ably delivers a nuanced performance of Sherry’s boss and recent widower, Joseph, despite the heavily powdered gray hair. Honestly, after experiencing an abundance of high school and college productions with young men playing old with talcum powder in their hair I’ve developed a phobia of grey-talcum powdered hair subconsciously equating powder- in- the hair gray with bad acting but Delaney proved my theory wrong. A capable actor is a capable actor with or without gray powder in his hair.
The only sour moment in Delaney performance was when Joe tries to persuade his son Trevor to attend SUNY Binghamton because it is the best the State University of New York system (SUNY) has to offer. As a graduate of SUNY Purchase College, I can say right here: Like Hell it is. Sherry is a reflection of the self-made playwright, Kim Rosenstock. Tigers was Kim Rosenstock’s application to Yale, and the play that launched her writing career. Now she currently writes for The New Girl starring Zooey Deschanel on Fox. It would not be a stretch to say Sherry is a refection of Azuka Theatre Comany or Inis Nua (cofounded by Tom Reing and Mr. Jared Delaney) Brat Productions, Mauckingbird,EgoPo Classic Theater, Flashpoint, and 11th Hour Theatre Productions, are all self-made companies who perform in the Off Broad Street Theater. Did I just go thesis-big and elect Sherry as a personification or a representative of these self-made boutique theater companies here in Philadelphia?
Yes I did.
Running now through May 25th. 8pm,& Sun matinee 2pm, $15-25, Buy Tickets and Go to: Azuka Theatre, 1636 Sansom St. Philadelphia, PA 19103. (215) 563-1100.