This is the story of a complicated but burgeoning relationship between a middle-aged therapist in Los Angeles and a young inmate in Florida who meet through a series of letters.
Though the play is probably not for everyone, it is a staggering achievement in not only play wrighting, but direction and acting.
“Tiger,” which was chosen as Best Play at the 2005 Festival of New American Plays in Richmond, Virginia, and followed by a full production in New York City, lays bare the very core of human emotion on its way to questioning whatever it can and underscoring the meaning and purpose of existence.
It leaves very little unexposed in its heroic attempt to mine the soul for answers to the human condition, but especially the nature of love.
Becker’s language cuts to the chase. It is as raw and gritty as any American urban playground. As startling and eye opening as a tiger ripping apart a gazelle.
Any theatre company in the country should be happy and proud to stage this compelling drama with elements of dark comedy.
The words are beautiful in their cadence, rhythm and precision, but also in their substance, style and content.
Becker also has a very firm and capable grip on the intricacies of the American penal system, leaving us, the audience, not only frightened by its violence, but disgusted by its double standard.
This is a playwright at the top of his game. And a muse unafraid of the spotlight or the siren’s song of the heart. Together the two create a fascinating masterwork which embraces the human spirit while acknowledging the pain and suffering inherent in its existence.
The vivid and varied poetry in the play is Becker’s as well. The verse shows his full comprehension of the struggle and plight of the artist in a world that often goes out of its way to muzzle and quiet him.
Jules Aaron’s direction is visionary. It captivates and compels, leaving little, yet everything to the imagination.
The Theatre 40 veteran director infuses a great deal of mental maneuvering into a play deeply steeped in emotion and feeling.
Aaron is a brilliant director who proves here that he is capable of traversing even the most sensitive and controversial territory with grace and aplomb.
The LA Drama Critics Circle Award winner and Robby Living Legend award recipient helms a breathtakingly gifted cast.
Stand outs include:
Bob McCollum (Kelly) who rips and shreds any sense of common decency or integrity left in the creative process as one of the prison guards. The GRT veteran actor dazzles and dizzies in a convincing turn.
Michael O’Neil Callaghan (Maynard Lipiche) brings a true sensitivity and compassion to this difficult role. His is a courageous and passionate portrayal complete with searing intensity and possibility.
Michael Taylor Gray (Jerry Arnold) almost walks away with the play. His role is the lynchpin that holds this play together. The strong and sturdy performance never falters and is always a step ahead of our best guess. Gray is that rarest of actors, unafraid to take risks while portraying a character who is assessing the largest risk of his life.
But it is Dave Buzzotta (The Criminal) who steals the show. In a performance both parts rigid and relaxed, this former child actor shows the world the definition of “inmate.”
This criminal’s imagination opens cages that he has built in his mind and stabilizes nerves both he and the system have frayed. It is only through reading and writing poetry that he finds the key to real freedom and learns to express his feelings.
But it is love this prisoner so ferociously seeks and attempts to find.
Buzzotta gives an emotionally, philosophically and spiritually naked and charged turn. The portrayal is so wonderfully intense, naturalistic and electric that it reminds of Marlon Brando’s Academy Award winning performance in director Elie Kazan’s Best Picture winning “On The Waterfront” in 1954. This is a portrayal not to be forgotten or missed.
This critic hopes to see Buzzotta on the stages of North Hollywood or Los Angeles again soon.
Furthering the message of the play are the nimble and modern choreography of Michele Bernath, the brave and innovative set design of Chris Winfield, the lighting design of J. Kent Inasy, the sound design of Steve Shaw, and the costume design of Angela M. Eads.
In the end, “Tiger By The Tail” is a masterpiece not because of the bold risks it takes in dreaming about and reaching for true love, but its thorough and finite understanding of reality and the awesome risks we all assume every day merely by being alive.
This “Tiger” proves once and for all that Larry Eisenberg and Winfield, the GRT’s co-Artistic Directors, are growing more and more bold in their choice of material. This is a courageous choice at exactly the right time in the company’s evolution. All seems well in terms of talent, temerity and time on Burbank Boulevard.
Catch this “Tiger By The Tail” while you still can.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza
Times: Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm;
Sunday matinees at 2pm
Talk-back Sundays after the matinees on March 15th and April 5th.
Tickets: $25; Senior/Student: $20; Group 10+: $15.
Admission/Information: (818) 763-5990.
Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard,
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Parking: Ample street parking on Burbank Blvd. and on Cleon Ave. South of Burbank Boulevard. Please allow at least 15 minutes to park.