Prostitutes, schoolkids running numbers and debt-collecting tough guys are just the regular crowd in the East Side bar at the center of "The Tender."
By JOSHUA TANZER
We're on the Upper East Side, but it's not the Upper East Side of doorman buildings and it's not even the respectable Yorkville of today it's a rough and ready, working-class Yorkville of the late '70s or early '80s (as near as I can tell from a reference to Reggie Jackson). The scene is McMahon's Bar, a place where pictures of great racehorses share space on the Irish-American wall of honor with John Kennedy, James Cagney and a dartboard.
Joe the bartender (played by playwright Gregor Drozdek) is a fixture here, in the neighborhood where he grew up, and you can hear it in his voice and see it in the slightly mopey way that he fits into the woodwork. His bar is a refuge for the local night workers in the morning, day workers in the evening, priests, prostitutes and touts. It's the place where you go to put a donation in the box for Billy, a neighborhood old-timer who's just had an operation.
Enter Tommy, a childhood schoolmate who's now an enforcer for the local bookie to whom Joe owes a steadily increasing bundle of debts. Of course, you and I know that the way to handle that situation is to pay up and quit gambling. Joe, as you might figure, thinks the solution is to keep going double-or-nothing on the ponies until he wins one. As tough-guy Tommy's visits grow more frequent and more brutal, the pressure on Joe mounts and we never forget the cash-filled cardboard box marked "Get Well, for Billy" sitting on the bar like an invitation to sin.
|Written by: Gregor Drozdek.|
Directed by: Marcel Brathwaite and Sasha Schulman.
Cast: Gregor Drozdek, Maurice Brathwaite, Naomi Lynn, Monica Stith, Eugene Hughes Jr., Julian Fletcher, Joe McDonough, Lenny Tedesco, Nick Sanchez, Charlie Maysonet.
There are a couple of problems with "The Tender." For one thing, stories about compulsive gamblers have been done before (I've known two people who'd written screenplays on the subject) and they can only go one way the same way this one does. Second, the play ends without giving much clarity to the mind of its main character whether he's gained any greater understanding than he started with. And a priest character who's dropped in to break up the trouble whenever it arises seems to have no point at the end. By the end, we don't know enough about what's inside these people.
But the play is full of heart and affection for its subjects, and it's passionately and convincingly acted by the whole cast. In fact, after the performance I saw, audience members were worriedly asking one actor whether he'd really been hurt in his encounters with the vicious Tommy. With much credit to the actors, "The Tender" feels pretty real.
|JULY 16, 2001|
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