Living with the Tiger

At Manbites Dog Theater
Through Nov. 5

Could this possibly be how the Wooster Group got started? The question arises over Haymaker’s promising first production, Living with the Tiger. For in the dogged, disciplined pursuit of Zeitgeist, that experimental theater has also worked and warped personal narratives and critical analysis into excerpts from novels, plays, history, pop culture and song. When this process works, the results, in Leonard Cohen’s words, are so vast and shattered that they reach and penetrate us everywhere.

After months of intensive collaboration, Living lets us approach what drives two unwise people to find and keep dangerous exotic animals. Its Thursday premiere, two days after an Ohio man released his own menagerie and committed suicide, eliminates the abstraction such inquiries can have.

Living with the Tiger begins in the midst of frenzied pre-dawn business trip preparations as Suzie, a harried administrative assistant (Emily Hill), has a moment of realization, and possibly a schizoaffective break, when she sees an untended tiger on the street. “This is mine,” she says, far too calmly. “This is me.”

When actor Dan VanHoozer’s unnamed character sinks into depression after the loss of his father, he synthesizes household supplies from Walmart with passages from Alexis de Tocqueville into a feverish, evangelistic course of action.

“Can’t you see it?” he says. “It’s like a new way to get better!”

As our dread increases, we ponder what both are really after. The impulse to touch, to unite with an other that is powerful, beautiful and dangerously uncontrollable stretches back to Greek mythology. But where such events were exceedingly rare in ancient Greece, in America, anyone with enough money can buy access to a novel form of assisted suicide.

Given these compelling revelations, Living with the Tiger still reads structurally in places like a very promising company’s first results with a process they should explore further. For its intentionally broken narrative pavement, some transitions still dragged when we saw it. And even with its tinge of existential nausea, the show’s final scene doesn’t have all of its intended impact.

Still, Haymaker’s obviously after big game, so to speak. We want to see its future findings.