Explosive theatre: Tender Napalm is raw, confounding and compelling
Electric performances from real-life couple in British writer Philip Ridley’s shocking, yet tender, play
Audiences are bound to leave Philip Ridley's Tender Napalm feeling a little shellshocked.
This production of the the British playwright's 2011 play, from local indie companies Theatre by the River and Theatre Incarnate, opens gently enough. A half-hour prologue — a movement-based performance of Ridley's poem cycle Lovesongs for Extinct Creatures — provides a graceful introduction to the writer's penchant for mixing the poetic and the profane in his language.
After a brief intermission, the fireworks begin.
Tender Napalm follows the twisted love story of a woman and a man, played by Daina Leitold and Karl Thordarson, who come by their considerable onstage chemistry naturally — they're a real-life couple. The man and the woman seduce, abuse and cajole each other through a series of verbal flights of fancy.
Sometimes they describe violent sexual seduction, sometimes they spin fantastical tales about desert islands populated by monkey armies or trips through space in a flying saucer or sea serpents.
Sometimes they describe more earthly matters, like falling in love or all-too-real moments of unthinkable loss and pain.
Which of these are reality, and which are pure fantasy? That's left for the audience to decide, and those decisions open up multiple interpretations as to what Tender Napalm is really about.
Through it all, though, is Ridley's powerful use of language — often incredibly raw, sometimes cringe-inducingly graphic, sometimes stunningly poetic — but consistently evocative, drawing us into the impressionistic, dream-like world of the woman and the man.
The back-and-forth between the two, and the almost stream-of-consciousness tale-telling can grow a bit exhausting for the audience over the play's 100 or so minutes.
But Leitold and Thordarson's energy never flags in director Brenda McLean's stylish and unflinching production. They deliver electric performances, deftly wrangling Ridley's challenging wordplay. They commit themselves passionately to the alternatingly ugly and gentle nature of the script, and the results are engrossing, if sometimes confounding.
But patience pays off here — when the seemingly disparate but carefully laid threads of Ridley's script pull together, the result is both explosive and tender.
It's strange and often brutal and absolutely not for everyone, but those looking for a little more bang in their theatre will be pleased with Tender Napalm.
Tender Napalm runs at Creative Manitoba (245 McDermot Ave.) until Oct. 21.
Also for indie theatre fans …
Two other indie theatre companies — Snakeskin Jacket and The 28th Minute, both of which have delivered some great Fringe festival productions in the past — team up this week to present The Flick, a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by American writer Annie Baker about underpaid workers in a movie theatre toiling away between screenings.
It's presented by a solid cast and directed by local theatre and film veteran George Toles.
It's got a short run this week — Oct. 18-21 at the Rachel Browne Theatre.