Young co-stars a revelation in ‘Tigers’

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Young co-stars a revelation in ‘Tigers’

THEATER REVIEW

“Tigers Be Still”

Grade: B+

Through Sept. 30. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. $15. Aurora Theatre, 128 E. Pike St., Lawrenceville. 678-226-6222. auroratheatre.com.

Bottom line: Bright and charming, with a wonderful pair of co-stars to match.

It’s times like these that a theater critic lives for. The new season has only just begun, but it’s hard to imagine things getting much sweeter than this, when, on three consecutive nights last week, I felt privileged simply being in the same room with some really amazing actors.

If you have even the slightest familiarity with their long and distinguished Atlanta stage careers, you’ve probably already come to expect the best from Crystal Fox and Carolyn Cook. And do they ever deliver with their bravura performances in the Alliance’s “What I Learned in Paris” (through Oct. 6) and Horizon’s “Time Stands Still” (through Oct. 14), respectively — neither of which should be missed.

Then again, what’s so surprising about that when you’re as routinely great as they are?

A more pertinent question might be: Who are Sarah Elizabeth Wallis and Barrett Doyle? She recently starred (nicely enough) in “The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls” at the Alliance, and he left a strong (albeit brief) impression a couple of years ago in “100 Saints You Should Know” at Actor’s Express.

As the sparkling young co-stars of director Justin Anderson’s delightful Aurora Theatre studio production of “Tigers Be Still,” Wallis and Doyle truly come into their own. In this quirky little comedy (by Kim Rosenstock), she’s Sherry, a newly graduated “art therapist” still recovering from her own personal problems, and he’s Zack, the angry and troubled high school student who becomes her first “patient.”

With a refreshingly genuine sensitivity and undeniable chemistry to spare, they make an irresistible pair of characters — no less dynamic a feat than those pulled by Fox or Cook, and yet all the more impressive in the sense that it catches you totally off-guard. You may never see it coming or know what hits you, and that’s partly why it’s such a pleasure to behold.

The show is not without its flaws. Chief among them is the role of Sherry’s “inappropriate” older sister, Grace, an obtrusive distraction from the heart of the story. Where the rest of Rosenstock’s play feels natural and real, Grace’s scenes are forced and contrived. (Greater actresses likely wouldn’t fare much better than Abby Parker does here.)

Anderson uses the cramped quarters of his Aurora space as best he can. Some moments are played in the aisle or at the entrances on either side of the theater. But if you happen to be seated in the opposite corner from where most of Jayson Smith’s scenes take place, you may miss a lot of the subtle texture he brings to his role as Zack’s father and Sherry’s boss.

That’s a small price to pay, perhaps, in exchange for having Wallis and Doyle front and center. Getting to watch veterans such as Fox and Cook honing their craft is one kind of thrill; watching these two newcomers more or less discovering theirs is another.

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