When I heard that Tenderina, a new production by FrenetiCore, was a play, a dance performance, a film work, a poem and a striptease, I was skeptical. This sounded like a show with an identity crisis.
And it was, with a bit of psychosis thrown in. From what I could understand, the general idea of poet Loueva Smith's play is this: A former good-girl ballerina turns into a stripper, known as the Girl Matador. She's rechristened by Kirk, a strip club patron who falls in love with her, as Tenderina. The whole rest of the show is nothing more than Tenderina and her odd crew musing back and forth about the meaning of Love, or Innocence, or...oh, forget it, I honestly have no idea what they were talking about.
Per Loueva Smith's synopsis from the program:
In the first scene, she walks on fire seeking an explosion that will free her. At her trial in the second scene, she must rescue the innocence of her heart. In the third scene she balances with her lover between a hole created by tragedy and what can be found to fill it.
Here's what I did understand: Every character, including a witchlike one-eyed voyeur, lavishes saccharine praise upon Tenderina, saying that she's the prettiest, best stripper/dancer ever. But we hardly ever see her dance (or strip, for that matter, which was surprising since the show gloated about its NSFW nudity, of which there was none). From the brief dance poses Tenderina tries to execute, it's clear that the part wasn't cast to a ballerina, but that doesn't stop the show from trying to convince you otherwise.
And then there's Tim, a creepy strip-club lurker who's also enamored of Tenderina's unproven dancing abilities. He carries around a prosthetic limb for the entire show, which he once stole from a one-legged stripper. But somehow he's still let back into the club, and no one ever asks for the leg! I'm pretty sure his sole purpose is to be a jerk to Tenderina and make her feel bad about hustlin' on a platform, and I'm fairly positive that the man's possession of this lady's leg was some sort of commentary on the male gaze in postmodern society, but the one thing I'm totally sure of is that the dude has a fetish.
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The script of Tenderina is nine parts poetry and one part plot. That makes it hard to follow, but with powerful language, a play can hold its own. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case here. The play tried to hit a note of existential angst, but ended up sounding whiny and hollow.
In between scenes, a handful of dancers regaled the audience with amateurish routines. For a show supposedly about dancing, none of it is very impressive, and no one on stage earned the title "stripper." One of the pieces held its own, though: "Motherless Child" was particularly haunting and well choreographed. The saving grace of the show was the last number, where an aerialist danced up and down two suspended strips of fabric to French song "J'Arrive." More! I silently prayed. But then the credits rolled, and I felt confused and cheated by all the striptease-teases I'd been promised.
On the back of the program, there's a plea for donations: "KEEP OUR DANCERS OFF THE POLE!" it reads. From what I saw of Tenderina, in which there was neither coherence nor a pole, there's not much risk of pole-dancing any time soon.
Tenderina runs through December 17 at Frenetic Theater, 5102 Navigation Blvd. For tickets, visit www.freneticore.net.