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Al (Torsten Hillhouse) met his pregnant girlfriend Hen (Sarah Megan Thomas) in just such an encounter six years ago. Squeal (Jeffrey Woodard) met Tash (Alysia Reiner), Hen's best friend, in another chance encounter, this one on a city bus the day before the action begins. Hen meets Gloria (Betsy Aidem), an older woman whose husband, Marvin (John Rothman), disappeared a little over a year ago, at a missing persons bureau where Hen is volunteering. Nathan (Noel Joseph Allain), a freelance marketing maven, meets Marvin in a supermarket, where he is conducting a survey because Gloria, whom he has recently hired, fails to show up.
In real life all these coincidences might be serendipitous. In a play they risk the danger of being contrived. But this is the least of Tender's problems.
All these encounters and their consequences are revealed in a multitude of scenes that director Kevin O'Rourke's notes call" a multi-level collage." According to O'Rourke, these "building blocks of small scenes" present the central story in much the same way one sees on television and film. This should not be surprising since most of playwright Morgan's professional experience is in televised and filmed media. She is the writer for Sex Traffic, Tsunami; The Aftermath and tje film script for Monica Ali's Brick Lane.
While film and television allow for the fluid movement from scene to scene, live theater does not. Set designer Kevin Judge has attempted to solve this difficulty by creating a set of three movable windows suspended from a rod above the stage. The movement of the windows signals a new scene and a new location — Gloria, Nathan, or Hen and Al's apartment, the missing persons bureau, the supermarket, etc. No doubt Morgan also attaches particular significance to the symbolism of the window but not content with letting the audience figure that one out, she has Nathan say, "Windows become my friends. They're inroads into other peoples' lives.". The repositioning of the windows is, in fact, hugely symbolic and a fitting metaphor for the meaningless activity that saturates this play. Another good example might be Gloria's hanging dry laundry on a clothesline. Perhaps O'Rourke was too busy overseeing the moving of the windows and arranging his "Rauschenberg montage of independent images" to add such a realistic and mundane touch as seeing to it that the laundry is wet.
Although hardly original, the search for love, the building and destroying of trust, the inability of some people to create or maintain relationships are never bad themses themes. The problem is with stereotypical characters like the mousy Hen, the brassy Tash and the hopeless Gloria and their mostly clichéd dialogue.
Betsy Aidem is the cast's ray of sunshine. Against all odds, she manages to make Gloria not only human but also funny and affecting. The rest of the acting, if not stellar, is adequate, except for Reiner, who reduces most of her lines to gibberish, even on the rare occasions when she is not overplaying a drunk.
Tender may find an audience among young people convinced there is great meaning in the vicissitudes of their personal relationships. More mature audiences are likely to demand more insight and originality.
For a more positive take on the play, you might want to read our London critic's review.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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