Gloucester Stage's 'Tender' is more mean than funny

Where turgid self-pity meets spiteful witlessness
By ED SIEGEL  |  July 13, 2010

WAITING FOR THE DOUGH Is it “tenderness” or masochism that prevents anyone from throwing Frank out on his ear?

"When am I going to stop feeling like such an asshole," asks Amanda, one of the three characters in Tender, which is getting its world premiere from Gloucester Stage (through July 25). It's a question that any of the three could have asked, and if there were a God, or at least the voice of God, He or She would answer, "Until this play is over, honey, we're all gonna feel like assholes."

And if Pirandello were looking down, he'd most likely say something like, "You three characters are desperately in search of an author who doesn't take his inspiration from Lifetime TV-movies."

That might be overstating it, since any 15 minutes of films like She Stole Her Mother's Lesbian Lover are better than any 15 minutes of Kelly Younger's Tender. Here we have a fortysomething couple wrestling with all the issues of the day except for irritable bowel syndrome. Brian is out of work. Amanda is struggling as a Realtor. Foreclosure's a possibility. Her father has come to live with them — he can't live on his own because he has memory problems. Daughter Lexie has had to transfer to public school. Fortunately for her, she's at a sleepover, so she escapes all the turgid self-pity and mean-spirited witlessness of Tender.

The mean spirit is embodied by dear old dad. (He's no slouch at self-pity, either.) Frank swaggers around the middle-class house in his working-class baseball cap and work boots, attaching Post-it notes to every wall in sight, in between watching reruns of Antiques Roadshow in the hope of discovering a fortune in his junk. He can't take a look at his stay-at-home son-in-law without questioning Brian's manhood. He keeps calling Brian "Martha" — after Martha Stewart — and telling him to keep his pinky down while drinking wine.

Since this behavior has nothing to do with Frank's age — we learn that he's been a louse pretty much his whole life — it raises the question: why did this couple let such a monster anywhere near their house? I suppose we're supposed to think that they're "tender," but anyone who wouldn't throw Frank out on his ear is suffering from either a hideous lack of self-respect or a martyr complex. The former is of dramatic interest if you're waiting for Godot, the latter if you're Joan of Arc.

Amanda and Brian are neither. They're just waiting for the dough, and it looks like a Godot-long wait. Meanwhile, Brian whines that he gets no respect for househusbandry and that Amanda is never there for Lexie. Amanda whines that if not for her working late, they wouldn't be able to make their mortgage payments. Frank doesn't whine, he growls. About everything. Except irritable bowel syndrome. Frank is a yard goat, a job that entails driving semi trailers around a parking lot all day. Now he has the idea to get an RV and take the family to William Randolph Hearst's castle.

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