del Rosso Review: Worse than Tigers

“Worse than Tigers,” an inventive new play by Mark Chrisler, presented by The Mill Theatre and New Ohio Theatre, concluded its run in downtown Manhattan on September 8th. I am still thinking about the play, which is a good thing. It may be more than the sum of its parts. But I am still not sure that sum is quite enough. 

  In the play’s first act, I thought Chrisler was heavily influenced by Harold Pinter. In the second act, by Edward Albee. But Chrisler throws both together and then adds a man-eating tiger to stir the pot. And it is one zany pot. 

 The play opens on an apartment tastefully decorated in shades of somber gray (expertly done by Scenic Designer Matt Carlin, with Lighting Design by Kate Ducey). The literally buttoned-up Humphrey (Braeson Herold) is married to the icy Olivia (Shannon Marie Sullivan) and for unknown reasons, their relationship has totally broken down. So Humphrey invites round a mutual friend from college in the hope he will bring them back together but instead gets a volatile cop named Kurt (Zach Wegner). What could go wrong?  But Kurt, who in addition to bringing a man-eating tiger along with him that he leaves outside the door, also oozes sex and violence in equal parts. This makes Humphrey nervous, while making Olivia thaw. Trouble ensues. 

Shannon Marie Sullivan as Olivia & Braeson Herold as Humphrey in “Worse than Tigers”

 The disparate styles in this play don’t seem to gel into a cohesive whole. Is it existential? Pinteresque? Albee-esque? Because by the time we get to the end, we are firmly in the land of realism.

The cast is uniformly excellent, as is the razor-sharp direction by Jaclyn Biskup.

 The reasons for the failure of the marriage, when we finally get to them, are  poignant. And the use of the tiger as a metaphor for facing one’s demons is effective. But two acts of roaring – by the tiger and the couple – feel protracted in getting to the crux of the play. 

It is true there are many things worse than tigers. But when getting to what’s worse takes a machete to cut through the jungle, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.