Tigers Be Still had a pretty alluring title. I mean, while I don’t so much like being still, I am partial to tigers and other jungle-related animals. Their colossal nature appeals to me. I also really enjoy seeing plays at the Mechanics Institute. Part of this has to do with the fact that it’s walking distance from my place (although I shamefully drove on Wednesday night) and the other reason is that it has always felt so deliciously low budget and unpretentious. It is these observations that lure me into a false sense of security, thinking I’m about to see something underground, something raw, something exciting.
Unfortunately for my high expectations, I was disappointed on most accounts on Wednesday evening. Although there were indeed aspects of this production that I found worked, the things that didn’t were ultimately too distracting for me and as a result, I found myself disengaged from the story, checking my phone and wondering what time curtain call would be.
I don’t usually give much in the way of story but I’m going to here, to give some context. From the tiger that was on the loose for the duration of the play, predictably serving as a metaphor for facing grief, to the family home where three women couldn’t leave due to their collective gripping depression and anxiety, the same forlorn dramatic note was played consistently in this production. This was largely unfortunate because there was so much potential for comedy, had the timing been good. Lack of comic timing is a criticism I would have for the whole cast.
While the writing of Tigers Be Still, by American playwright, Kim Rosenstock was engaging, relatable and sometimes very funny, the play was too on the nose and this was compounded by the way in which it was performed. The issue was, I saw everything coming a million miles away- all of the dramatic moments were pre-empted by performance, making the final scene and even the turning point before the final act, all impact-less. This was a shame because the potential was there for some really intense moments and some nice reveals, resulting rather in a play that had no surprises whatsoever.
This brings me to one of my primary criticisms of the production, which was that the actors (perhaps facilitated by the direction) told me what was coming at all times- instead of showing me and allowing me to go on a journey with them. This even occurred quite literally as sentences were signposted with lights on the back walls of the set- highlighting ‘chapters’ or lines of dialogue to come. While the lighting side of this was visually appealing, ultimately it proved a cumbersome dramatic device.
My next major issue with this production was the blocking. Strangely, a lot of the most important scenes were played right at the back of the stage, a very odd choice indeed. While the set design was excellent, (I really couldn’t fault it) what baffled me was how the actors were directed to use this space. There were actually times when the actors had their backs to the audience and yet were delivering important dialogue. It seemed to be a conscious choice because it happened throughout the play, but I really couldn’t understand what it was about.
This brings me to another criticism I have, which is that the actors appeared to be under-rehearsed (particularly in a tech-run sense) but they also weren’t aware of their body language in relation to their audience, meaning that even when they were downstage, I still found them masking their own faces. In addition to these Drama 101 criticisms, their collective projection was just not good enough and I was sitting in the third row. I can’t imagine how frustrating this would have been for the cheap seats at the back. On this, the music and sound effects, (which were an excellent and lively part of the production) became frustrating because their use frequently masked dialogue. It was factors such as this that contributed to a production that appeared ultimately, unpolished.
After investigating Boutique Theatre’s website, I have since discovered that part of their ethos is to cast the best actor for the role, regardless of gender; age; sexual orientation etc. etc. While this is a great concept- I thought it resulted in poor casting decisions. For example, I was completely taken out of the world with the character of Joseph who was conceivably supposed to be a widowed father of an eighteen year old boy. The company chose to cast actor, Christopher Welldon. I dare say Christopher is in his late twenties, early thirties. Even if I’m wrong, he was not believable in the role of a man pining after the loss of his high school sweetheart from the sixties. I just didn’t by it. The only actor that I did connect with was Rohan Mirchandaney who played the part of the young wayward teen, Zack- again he was far too old for the role and this was distracting but I have to admit he had some moments in his performance that were relatable, understated and indeed funny.
I’m aware of how this review must make me sound but let it be known that I always go to the theatre thinking I’ll love the show. With this said, I would be interested to see what else Boutique Theatre has in their 2015 repertoire and I’m committed to seeking out their next show, Abigail (June- July). Their website outlines a statement of intent that I strongly believe in and that is that Boutique Theatre is committed to ‘doing everything we can to undo the perception that theatre is an exclusive, high-culture experience.’ I’ll support them in that pledge.