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2 comedies: One a tiger, another a dud

Halley Feiffer, left, and Natasha Lyonne are shown

Halley Feiffer, left, and Natasha Lyonne are shown in a scene from “Tigers Be Still,” a Roundabout Theatre Underground comedy now running off-Broadway in New York City. Credit: AP

WHAT "Tigers Be Still"

WHERE Roundabout Underground, 111 W. 46th St.

INFO $20; 212-719-1300; roundaboutunderground.org

BOTTOM LINE Bright young playwright with smart new serious comedy

It is hard to talk about a runaway hit in an off-off-Broadway black-box theater with just 65 seats. But "Tigers Be Still," the latest entry in the Roundabout Theatre Company's overachieving young Underground series, has been attracting the kind of attention that bigger theaters envy.

And deservedly so. The offbeat and nuanced comedy is by newcomer and Yale grad Kim Rosenstock - incidentally, raised in Baldwin. With just four characters and a stock setup, Rosenstock, pitch-perfect director Sam Gold and a delightful cast nail fresh humor and anguish in two outrageously troubled suburban families in a world of real danger.

Halley Feiffer has a wonderful worried-yet-cheerful, gawky-yet-lyrical quality as an underemployed art-therapy teacher whose catatonically depressed sister (Natasha Lyonne) can't get over being dumped by her fiance, and whose unseen mother won't leave her room since she gained weight from medicine. John Magaro has a sullen sweetness as the teen with a dead mother, with the invaluable Reed Birney as his father, the school principal, whose attempt to cancel his wife's subscription to Yoga magazine manages to be both funny and a heartbreak.

Cho misses mark 

Meanwhile, results are less satisfying upstairs in Roundabout's off-Broadway theater, where Julia Cho's award-winning "The Language Archive" searches for a balance between intentional cartoon whimsy and the profundity of magic-realism.

Cho, whose "BFE" and "Durango" marked her as a promising and original new theater voice, never finds a convincing voice in this absurdist comedy about a lost-language professor who lacks the language of love. As directed by Mark Brokaw, Matt Letscher, as the lover of lost languages, has the overly-empathetic befuddled style of a '60s sitcom husband.

His wife (the admirably labile Heidi Schreck) can't stop crying. She leaves him to discover mystical bliss in the baking of bread, while his assistant (Betty Gilpin) pines for him. But John Horton and the ever-surprising Jayne Houdyshell perk things up speaking made-up language and Esperanto. Cho talks a lot about doors opening, doors closing, and how people can be so sad it feels like happiness. Not this time, alas. 

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