Cleveland Public Theatre
6415 Detroit Ave.
Opening May 3 through Saturday, May 18
Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday
The first clue that this play will be unusual is the two characters listed in the program; Woman (played by Melissa Crum) and Man (played by Matt O’Shea). The second hint is the title “Tender Napalm”. Lastly is the bizarre technopop music coming out of the speakers prior to the play’s beginning. These are obvious tip-offs that the evening will not prove to be a segment from Ozzie and Harriet…but more like Ozzie and Sharon.
The set looked normal enough. The kind of low rent apartment that a young couple would have started out in; mismatched furniture, milk crate book nook, single Chinese paper lantern on a light bulb, circa 1950’s linoleum topped chrome legged table that has seen better days, odd shaped pillows, overstuffed easy chairs from the Salvation Army modern living collection, sturdy hardback silver chairs bought at a surplus sale from a military installation.
The production begins with woman and man playing checkers at the table as they converse…and here is the rub. This free thought consciousness dialog makes no sense what-so-ever. Random words and phrases are repeated throughout the play. Words and phrases like bullet, grenade, sea serpent, whale, death of a child, monkeys, naked, sword, fisherman’s net, Neptune, great-great-great-aunt, birthday party, cancer, fancy dress, washing machine with a dent in the top, dolphin shaped dildo with “Souvenir of Atlantis” printed on it.
The play is a series of disconnected talks between the two combatants who fantasize that they are alone on a deserted tropical island. There is a battle over who is the ruler of the island and the troupe of island monkeys (represented by the checker pieces) whom they share the fictional island with. Interspersed with these verbal ramblings are reminiscences of their past family lives and how they met as a couple.
Each dialog begins with bright stage lighting but as each vignette continues the lighting becomes more subdued, emphasizing that the conversation is steering into dangerous ground. What starts out quiet soon erupts into a display of shouting and histrionics as they trash the room; overturn chairs, throw empty pizza boxes, climb on top of the table and kitchen counters, throw pillows, and scatter the checkers throughout the room. Throughout the peak of these tirades the lighting becomes a character in its own right, pulsating, flashing, changing color, changing texture and density. It is ADHD the musical without the music. It’s like watching a locked day room at the asylum where the narcotics and orderlies have been removed and the inmates are allowed to run amok.
Then there is the language. The Tourette syndrome rears its ugly head as the F word, two C words, the A word, the S word plus many more from the naughty alphabet collection are spewn. The words are not just spoken, they are shouted. It made me wonder as to the reaction of the passerbys strolling Detroit Avenue that evening. But then, seeing as they were going past Cleveland Public Theatre, it was probably not even noticed. There are also crude sexual references sprinkled in for good or bad measure.
After nearly an hour and a half of this rambling journey, the play reaches the final sets of scenes. Here, one would hope that the tender scene of woman and man meeting for the first time would reveal an answer to the mystery…but NO! They simply end up vigorously making out. The final scene has them sitting back at the table where woman repeats man’s early dialog from the beginning of the play thus setting the cycle of the play into motion once more only the characters are reversed.
Concerning the actors, they do an absolutely brilliant job with this convoluted story. There is a lot of physical action, running, climbing, shouting and what-not. Melissa and Matt are to be congratulated for a job well done. They bring a tremendous amount of energy to the rolls.
Denise Astorino (a 2012-2013 Joan Yellen Horvitz Directing Fellow) is the director of “Tender Napalm” presented by Cleveland Public Theater’s Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan, Ali Garrigan is the Costume Designer, Scott C. Chapman is the Lighting Designer, Val Kozlenko is the Scenic Designer, Amy Schwabauer is the Stage Manager and Patrick Stoops is the Sound Designer/Composer.
Shooting from the lip (my last words): Depending on your psychological strength and make-up, this play will either have you thinking about the play or wishing that you could stop thinking about the play. It is the classic case of an unsolvable enigma wrapped up in a conundrum. In short you will be spending much time and thought on what you have witnessed. See the play and judge for yourself.
Tender Napalm opens at CPT Friday, May 3 and runs thru Saturday, May 18 in the Storefront Studio, 6415 Detroit Ave in Cleveland’s Gordon Square Arts District.
Performances are at 7:00 pm Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Monday.
Opening night reception, Friday, May 3 with free food and drinks after the show.
Tickets are $10- $25, $10 tickets on Mondays and Thursdays, $25 tickets on Fridays and Saturday with a $3 discount for Students and Seniors.
Free Beer Fridays – Every Friday after the show, mingle with the artists while enjoying a drink or two on CPT.