nytheatre.com review by David Ledoux
July 15, 2007
Tender opens with the surprise 29th birthday party of Soledad, a struggling Lower East Side bartender. Soledad and her friends, Sam and Anna, are soon interrupted by an old acquaintance to the group, Julie. It turns out Julie is the center of a lot of baggage surrounding the women, and in the following days the conflict among these four intensifies as Julie tries to provide answers to Soledad's uncertainty about her future. Julie tries to convince Soledad to work in "the corporate world," and even gets her a job interview. As we see Soledad go back and forth with whether to go through with this career change or not, we also see her struggling with relationships with her other two friends, Anna and Sam.
The evening got off to an awkward start with a very long pause at the top of the show after the curtain speech. Three of the actors then hastily entered, two of them shouting surprise to the third. This seemed like an ineffectual beginning to the show. It is very possible though, that this was some sort of technical glitch, and in that case we have all been there.
I was, however, struck by the amount of blatant exposition in the dialogue. Playwright Shapour Benard gives us too much too soon. The exposition both provides the audience background on the characters and also on the culture these women are inhabiting. There are lines that seem to be saying, this is a New York reference and this is what it's like living in New York. These moments are countered with lines like, "My favorite European city is Edinburgh." Every New York and Scottish reference seemed a bit cheap and transparent.
Despite the weaknesses of the script, many issues could be solved through Julie Baber's direction. The feel of the evening is messy and not thought through. The couch and chair from the party stay in the same place for the entire play, even though the action moves from the apartment to the bar, to a store, to a corporate lobby, etc. No choices seemed to be made with regard to lighting or scenery to define the space in a clear or effective way. As far as sound is concerned, sometimes there is sound in between scenes, sometimes there isn't. And one of the characters had the loudest cell phone I have ever heard. I understand the limitations with festival plays, but creativity and conscientious choice making can overcome those practical realities.
The strongest part of the evening was the work of the actors. The cast includes Andrea Dionne, Kelly B. Dwyer, Amber Gray, and Kellie E. McCants. They all managed to find some clear subtextual relationships, and they have a natural chemistry with each other. I did however want to see the ensemble come out of their shell a bit more. They seemed to be very aware of the audience and timid. It was a small theatre yet the energy didn't really fill the space. The impression was of a group of friends being playful on the subway when they know they can't really let loose because they are in public.