Land Of The Tigers is a realm where tigers walk on two legs, wear wigs (some of them powdered), hats (some of them three-cornered) and assorted 18th Century garb—and speak English.  It is a land where the only enemy is the dreaded swan, and because “the ‘Swan Alert’ remains as high as ever,” guards are thankfully keeping watch day and night.  In Land Of The Tigers, reproduction is strictly controlled, and mating rituals keep bloodlines strong.  Thus, when one of the elite, Fang Stalkington, complains to the Tigressional Congress that his sister Sheba is not doing her duty by mating with him, it is serious business indeed. Though Fang has peed on Sheba to demonstrate in no uncertain terms that she belongs to him and him alone, the beauteous Sheba is having none of this. ‘You cannot spray our troubles away,” she growls at him. 

And there you have the beginning of the first act of Land Of The Tigers (aka “Cats meets The Planet Of The Apes meets The Crucible”), which proclaims itself one of the five best plays ever written about tigers.

Is somebody pulling our leg?

Actually, yes.

Land Of The Tigers turns out to be a wildly original, deliciously silly comedy about the genesis of the above (fictional) play. Act One shows us the “finished product.”  Act Two reveals the “genius” behind the “masterpiece.”

The real Land Of The Tigers is a joint effort between the always original Sacred Fools and cult favorite Burglars Of Hamm.  The play-within-a-play Land Of The Tigers is the kind of “serious drama” that gets unintentional laughs.  The actual play now running at Sacred Fools Theatre gets laughs that are entirely intentional, and there are many of them indeed.

Imagine lines like “The swans will stop at nothing till they get our total destruction” or “Large pools are forming like giant (swan) welcome mats.”  Imagine a tiger named Sabertooth who, after getting into some of Professor Clawman Furworthy’s secret potions, finds that his arm has grown to six times its length.  Imagine a world in which our planet is moving further from the sun in its orbit, thus bringing about global cooling.

This is Act One of Land Of The Tigers.

Now imagine the community theater that created this “brilliant new opus.”  That is Act Two of Land Of The Tigers, which introduces Brian Johnson, the fictional play’s writer, Michael Livingston, the most pretentious and licentious pseudo genius of a director ever to strut his stuff inside a theater, and would-be actors Tim, Tracy, Margaret and Susan, who suffer through some of the most painful (and hilarious) “exercises” any thespian ever endured in a quest for greatness. (The exercise “What I want you to know about me is…” and “What I don’t want you to know about me is…” leads to confessions of abuse, incest, and abortion, cries of “She stole my answer!” and one-upmanship galore.)

Under Michael’s megalomaniacal reign, these poor aspiring thesps are ordered to forgo sex and masturbation for at least ten weeks, and to eat at least twelve ounces of meat at every meal because, says Michael, “a tiger is a sex predator.” And this is just the beginning of Act Two’s “play behind the play.”

The real Land Of The Tigers was written by Burglars Of Hamm Carolyn Almos, Matt Almos, Jon Beauregard, and Albert Dyan, who’ve created here a two-acter unlike any you’ve seen before, and directed by (Matt) Almos for maximum laughter and absurdity.

Except for Cody Henderson (Brian) and Dean Gregory (Michael), everyone in the cast plays a tiger in Act One and an actor in Act Two, with Hugo Armstrong (Sabertooth & Tim), Devin Sidell (Sheba & Terry), Ruth Silveira (High Priestess Cava and General Hiss & Margaret), and Rebecca Metz (Calico The Smith, Fleas Felinius, Girl Club, and Salty Lickylegs & Susan) getting the lion’s share (sorry, that should be tiger’s share) of the stage time in Act Two. Completing the cast are Larry Biederman (Chairman Longstripe & Ray), Corey Klemow (Panthar, Catbox McFeely, Cub # 1, Todd & Steven), JJ Mayes (Bumbletip and Cub # 2 & James, and Shelly Kurtz (Professor Clawman Furworthy and Old Tiger & Kevin).

Comically gifted Henderson’s growing frustration at Gregory’s memorable madman of a director is truly funny to watch.  Armstrong’s not too bright Tim, Sidell’s sweet and earnest Terry, Silveira’s voice of reason Margaret, and Metz’s awestruck “director’s pet” Susan are hilarious.  In Act One, Sidell’s adorbably sexy tigress-in-heat is just one of a bevy of “Best Performances By Actors As Tigers,” the entire cast doing Grade A (or should that be T for Tiger?) work—and clearly having a ball performing this off the wall material. 

Costumes (by Ann Closs-Farley) and makeup (by Heather Hopkins) make each tiger unique, all the while allowing the actors’ real faces to somehow shine through. (These are some fancy-dressed tigers!) Donna Marquet’s scenic design is equally striking, especially Act One’s Africa-evocative set.  Henderson and (Matt) Almos have composed some deliberately Lion King-esque original music for Act One, with Almos responsible for the show’s first-rate sound design.  Natasha Norman’s choreography is funny and original, especially the “Dance Which Has No Name.”  The play’s unusually long list of Production Staff (including Daryl Dragon for his work as Tennille’s Captain) deserve kudos one and all.

Sacred Fools can always be counted on for original work. With the arrival of Land Of The Tigers, theatergoers who’ve loved A Mulholland Christmas Carol, Beaverquest, A Dr. Jeuss Christmas, Bukowsical!, Poona The F—dog, and a bunch of other wild and crazy Sacred Fools shows will be delighted to cheer this very entertaining collaboration with Burglars Of Hamm. 

Sacred Fools Theatre, 660 N. Heliotrope, Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
April 5, 2009
                                                         Photos:  (l) Chelsea Cote and (r) Jon Beauregard

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