The dreamy semicircle of embroidered orange shawls and rugs strewn across the Crescent’s floor drew me into the theater on Thursday night. The decor — complete with a mattress, books and clothing — hinted at a messy bedroom. The two halves seemed to lean in to meet in the stage’s center, paralleling the shape Tara and Allegra’s bodies as they reach toward each other during the play’s opening dance sequence.
“tender of you too,” written by Anya Richkind ’16, is at first scene after scene of giggly flirtation between two high school girls. Tara (Lora Kelley ’17) struggles helplessly to compliment Allegra (Jill Carrera ’17) on her audition performance, the girls squeamishly try kissing on a dare and then sexual tension escalates over a bowl of cookie dough. The tone borders sitcom-y, with pained audience laughter punctuating the girls’ awkwardness.
The girls’ relationship takes on another dimension when we learn Tara and Allegra are cast in their school’s play as a pair of formidable female leaders of the Christian Temperance Movement in the 1870s, Mary and Frances — who are secretly, and deeply, in love. We enter the world of Mary and Frances’ intimate relationship when Tara reads the introduction to Frances’ journal entries: “Nobody shall see these pages but myself …”
Tara and Allegra take on their characters’ personas as they rehearse together, and profess their love in weighty, poetic language. After the director criticizes Allegra for her lack of conviction as she addresses Tara’s character, Tara pushes her to explore her character’s motivations and feelings. Tara seems to grow into her character, grasping the “life-and-death” weight of Mary’s feelings for Frances. Tara and Allegra’s budding love culminates in a few truly memorable romantic scenes. Tara rushes to Allegra, flustered that the director has cut her kiss scene, and the interaction morphs into a dance sequence. The girls, who seemed to me more like women at that moment, gaze intently, wistfully at each other as they touch palms and dance slowly, deliberately — maturely.
The girls’ love swept me away, but Tara’s shrill, grating voice jerked me out of the moment with yet another insipid comment — leaving me disappointed, with a sense of whiplash. Was she confusing the intimacy of friendship with romantic love? Or, as Richkind suggests in the program’s playwright note, is she challenging a sharp distinction between the categories? Is playing Mary, who frames her profound love as a friendship because of her day’s social norms, guiding Tara to explore the romance in her relationship with Allegra?
Frances and Mary are woven into Tara and Allegra’s relationship in surprising ways throughout the story. Both girls try to supernaturally commune with the ghosts of Frances and Mary — preceded, the first time, by a quick prayer to Jesus for protection in case a spirit proved evil. Are Frances and Mary the future of the girls’ relationship, because they are an older, more mature pair? Are they outlining the girls’ fate? Or is the secret nature of their relationship the girls’ past, because the women lived over a century ago? We learn early on that Mary marries Frances’ brother, believing this to be her only socially acceptable option. As Tara explores Mary’s love, will the same parallels between the pairs’ stories play out, or will Tara make a different decision?
For anyone looking to ruminate on turbulent teenage love and newfound sexuality, “tender of you too” is well worth braving the cold trip to Morse.