(Charles Kruger)

A tiger has escaped from the zoo and that is the least of  the problems facing Sherry Wickman (Melissa Quine), although she nearly loses her job as a middle school art teacher when she breaks school policy and takes her charges outside where they risk attack.

But the truly threatening tigers on the loose in Kim Rosenstock‘s clever script, Tigers Be Still, are metaphorical. They are the stealthy emotional monsters that stalk Sherry and her family.

Sherry has been depressed for months, along with her mother and her sister. Her mother entered her depression when Dad abandoned the family and has confined herself to her bedroom and become grotesquely fat, only communicating with her children by telephone, even though they inhabit the same house.

The depression is contagious: sister Grace (Rebecca Schweitzer) refuses to get off the living room couch where she sucks on a whiskey bottle and endlessly watches a tape of the movie “Top Gun”, singing along with the soundtrack.

Sherry, however, has recently earned her credential as an art teacher and art therapist and she is determinedly perky in her efforts to succeed at her first job and escape the family curse of depression.

All of this she explains in speeches delivered directly to the audience.Everything is very funny and expertly played by a fine cast of actors but, in the end, the piece doesn’t fully satisfy. The story is charming, the jokes are cute, but the stakes among these basically likable people never seem quite high enough. Nobody is going to really commit suicide; the sisters will come to their senses; Mom will be rescued in the end by her high school sweetheart (Remi Sandri); Sherry’s teenage art therapy patient (Jeremy Kahn) will find his center and learn to grieve his mother’s death and move on into the adult world.

In the course of the evening, though, one is assured many a chuckle and a few hearty laughs. Jeremy Kahn’s teenage neurotic is particularly funny.

Ms. Rosenstock is a skillful writer with great theatrical chops, but, in this play, she fails to dive beneath a merely surface exploration of her themes. She can do better.

Director Amy Glazer handles the pace well, making the 90 minute (without intermission) performance move quickly. As is usual for the San Francisco Playhouse, the designers have done an excellent job.

The run of this popular production has been extended through September 10. For further information, click here.

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