Laughs of substance aplenty in City Lights’ ‘Tigers Be Still’

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Sherry (Melissa Weinstein, left) tries to convince her sister Grace (Akemi Okamura) to give back her ex-fiancé’s possessions in the City Lights production of “Tigers Be Still.” (Photo by Susan Mah)

It was just a few days before Thanksgiving, when Virginia Drake and her cast of the City Lights Theater Company production of “Tigers Be Still” had a pleasant, joyful read-through of the piece. There were laughs aplenty, and tons of fun was had by all, with Drake stating, “We all fell in love with it.” And so Drake and her company parted ways and went off to enjoy time with their respective families over a nice, extended holiday.

The company met up again a week later, and something happened for all of them. And it completely changed the way they went about doing the show.

“We thought it was so funny and fresh, and we all went on our break feeling great about where were were,” said Drake. “But when we returned and read the play some more, we found there was so much more depth than we originally thought.”

The play, written by Kim Rosenstock and currently running at City Lights, follows the trials and tribulations of Sherry, a 24-year-old woman who is working on coming out of a depression that still inhabits her mother and sister. As she moves forward with her life, she is able to find an opportunity to teach art, touching lives along the way. Throughout the play, there are moments littered with karaoke machines, a few Chihuahuas, Tom Cruise at his swaggy “Top Gun” best, and the strangest news of all – that a tiger has escaped from the local zoo.

The play has all the elements needed for humor – not necessarily laughs per se, but that part of life that keeps us from destroying each other.

Melissa Weinstein, who plays Sherry, certainly remembers what Drake spoke of when it came to those early rehearsals. When the new discoveries of the script came through, Weinstein certainly was fully on board to keep the laughter going, but also to make sure the laughs had a whole lot of substance.

“(Sherry) is a big character and a care giver, someone who looks out for others at the expense of herself,” said Weinstein. “I walk the line between myself and Sherry in terms of accessing the character. “

And accessing the character’s victories, as well as her disappointments, is something Weinstein has a firm grasp on.

“This play tries to be a lot of things in 90 minutes,” said Weinstein. “There is a lot of comedy and a lot of truth, a lot of poignancy, and a lot of touching moments that speak to the darkness of our lives.

“You see each of the characters struggle and see them working the way out of their own skin. The meaty part of this play allows you to really sink your teeth into the complexity of the character. This play really lets us do that.”

Weinstein is learning a new skill through this play, one that has a lot to do with logistics, not necessarily about the arc of the characters.

“This is the first time I have done a role without leaving the stage,” said Weinstein.

“It’s a 90 minute show with no intermission, I don’t leave the stage except for a quick costume change and only a few seconds for a drink of water.

“It’s a sprint, and a marathon.”

It has certainly been a marathon for Drake, a woman who has had a nice, long career as a director, most recently taking on “Man of La Mancha” at Los Altos Stage Company this past December. She has found lots of similarities with Sherry and Quixote in their quest for happiness, and her life experience makes this play a perfect choice for her.
“I am of an age where I’ve had lots of highs and lows in life, and directing this play now is a wonderful opportunity,” said Drake.

What has helped Weinstein is the connection she has felt with Sherry, almost instantly.

“Sherry and I are so similar, and since the beginning, I felt like I understood her at her core,” said Weinstein. “The challenge is in understanding her heart and how do emotions manifest. How do I show her heart in a way that’s clear?”

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

City Lights Theater Company presents “Tigers Be Still”
Written by Kim Rosenstock
Directed by Virginia Drake
Through Feb. 21st
City Lights Theater Company
529 S. Second St., San Jose, CA
City Lights Theatre
529 S. Second St., San Jose, CA
Tickets range from $15 – $32
For tickets, call (408) 295-4200 or visit www.cltc.org

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