2023 Capital Fringe Review: ‘Tender’ by David John Preece (5 stars)

Transformation Theatre presents a beautifully written spat between Ernest Hemingway and Zelda Fitzgerald over F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Tender is a bittersweet meditation on life and art. The time is 1926. The place: A Paris apartment. A marriage is on the rocks, between the capricious beauty from Montgomery, Alabama, Zelda Sayre (Brenna Horner), and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Chad Tyler), the foremost chronicler of the Jazz Age. Scott is attempting to write a story he is not proud of to make some money. Zelda wants his attention, and has numerous ways of getting it.

Horner’s Zelda is a Southern belle with a brain, in all her self-destructive glory. Tyler as Scott has a kind of unassuming charm, which has not yet been destroyed by his tragically severe alcoholism. Ernest Hemingway (Adian Chapman) is coming over to discuss Scott’s notes on his new book. Zelda does not like him.

What follows is a war between Ernest and Zelda over the affections and artistic aspirations of Scott, whose masterpiece, The Great Gatsby (1925), has just come out to mixed reviews and modest sales. Adian captures Hemingway’s passionate commitment to his writing, and his distrust of Zelda, whom he believes is interfering with Scott’s work. Zelda believes “Hem” is a phony.

One of the highlights is a flashback to an earlier time when Scott initially proposed. Horner as Zelda has a nuanced understanding of the girl who as Judge Sayre’s daughter was a notable “wild child” but breathtakingly popular. Tyler’s Scott is understandably insecure, knowing that he does not yet have the moneyed social standing Zelda has been told to expect.

The confrontations between Zelda and Ernest are especially well-staged. There is, despite their indignant denials, sexual tension between Scott and Ernest, and although there is disagreement on the subject, it is perfectly plausible. The script goes further, perhaps, than it realistically should, but that is a matter of conjecture. The play, by David John Preece, is beautifully written, and the direction, by Carl Randolph, is strikingly effective.

The set (Heidi L. Castle-Smith) and costumes (Linda Swann) have a simple elegance that works well for the period.

Today we recognize that Scott and Ernest were deeply flawed, chauvinistic, and dismissive of minorities. But Tender is worth seeing just for Horner’s performance. 

Running Time: 75 minutes.

Tender by David John Preece plays July 16 at 8:30 pm, July 20 at 8:00 pm, and July 22 at 4:45 pm at Sour – 2nd Floor – 1050 Thomas Jefferson. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online.

Genre: Drama
Age Appropriateness: Recommended for Children 13+ and older
Profanity: yes

Zelda Fitgerald: Brenna Horner
Scott Fitzerald: Chad Tyler
Ernest Hemingway: Adian Chapman

Director: Carl Randolph
Production Stage Manager: David Elias
Assistant Stage Manager: Shannon Lewis
Costume Coordinator: Linda Swann
Set & Projection Design: Heidi L. Castle-Smith
Lighting Design: David Smith
Intimacy Director:  Sierra Young
Dramaturg: Ethan Joshua

SEE ALSO: 2023 Capital Fringe Preview: ‘Tender’ by David John Preece (preview by David John Preece, June 22, 2023)

The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.

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Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She has an extensive background in theater. Her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied Classics and English at Barnard and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe.


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