By Marcina Zaccaria
The truth is: I saw Tender Napalm because it had a great title. In the opening moments of this play, the lead actress considers a grenade inside of her, ready to explode.
On a white box with a completely black background, the Man and Woman glide, jumping, falling to the floor, keeping a long white cloth between them. The motion, circular and filled with repetition, finds tension in the balance.
Finding the delicacy of the language is half the battle, and Philip Ridley’s script, originally presented in London in 2011, is challenging. With escapes to the seaside and language of the body that is right on the edge, Tender Napalm is interested in every facet of the male/ female dynamic. Lovers, conquerors, and friends, The Man and Woman in the script are strong and capable. As in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, their departures to a far off land leave them with the right to solve their own dilemmas and change their own world. Later, background characters not seen but envisioned, disappear and re-appear within the world of the play.
Direction by David Norwood finds absolute joy in expression. Each passage aims toward triumphant. Stillness is not a virtue. Gracefully choreographed, the Woman seems, at times, incredulous. Her disbelief, juxtaposed with her claiming the title of Queen, provides a portrayal that is dimensional, yet indirect. In the background are short bits of sound, delivered by Composer and Sound Designer Brian Morales. The sonic landscape creates a magical world with sounds of the ocean and smooth, soul music. It is continuous, and never overpowers the lengthy phrases, delivered by the cast. David Norwood (AUDELCO Award for Outstanding Choreography/ Movement for his work on Salome) keeps the language of the play moving forward, in every way. Elevated speech, delivered by Amara James Aja and Ayana Major Bey, abounds. Transitions must be invented, and the threads connecting the worlds of the sea and the party with Janis, need to be reasoned through. In some aspect of this dreamlike, imaginary place, the play occurs, and though some might find it to be soothing, it can feel almost frustrating. There’s not a moment to sit back and take in the spectacle. There are no significant long pauses, or cessation of movement.
If the phrases were sung, they might have greater meaning, however, it might be a different work entirely. We’re accustomed to seeing operatic explosions at HERE Arts Center. Yet, WithTender Napalm, there’s plenty to do, in the mind of the audience, to create a narrative that’s built on the presence of this Man and Woman, who will persist, always dancing, tempting the larger explosion.
Photos: Jo Chiang
Tender Napalm is playing at HERE Arts Center, located on 145 Sixth Avenue (entrance on Dominick). It is running until August 4.