tenderly, Greenside @ Riddle’s Court, Review

Submitted by Erin Roche on Fri, 19 Aug '22 10.07pm
tenderly 2022
Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Rain Theatre
Ida Esmaeili (playwright), R. Lee Kratzer (director), Joanna Pisano (producer), Anisa Rose Threlkeld (dramaturgy), Hadley Armstrong (stage management), Bahar Royaee (compositions), Stella Emmett Kortchmar (sound design), Liv Rigdon (costume design), Richard Ouellette and Tyler Herald (scenic and props design), and Betsy Chester (lighting design)
Ida Esmaeili (Alina), Nate Janis (Will)
Running time

“Let’s just be happy today,” Will says, in an attempt to comfort his third-culture-kid of a girlfriend, Alina. 

In this semi-autobiographical, heart-wrenching and romantic two-hander, tenderly tells the story of falling in love under the pressure of immigration paperwork and of how geopolitics can bleed into intercultural relationships in the same way life perspective of one partner can bleed into the life of the other.

Orderly, independent Alina is Iranian, sent to the US at 14 for boarding school by her parents, who still live in Iran. Now in university to study visual arts, she’s met a boy she can dream up a future with, an American aspiring journalist who she meets when he asks for insight on his paper about Iran…but, with Alina’s visa expiry date looming, will the timeline of their love fit within the timeline and confines of the US government?

When the government holds the reins on whether you and your partner can call the same country ‘home’, expectations, pressure and worry can compound upon stresses of visas, time and money, getting in the way of the tenderness that takes root in new love. For couples with mixed nationality, the solemnity of the visa expiration date can tick away under the surface of your blossoming courtship. That solemnity is felt palpably by the audience, along with the chemistry between these two, as the love between Alina (played by Swedish-Iranian playwright Ida Esmaeili) and (real-life partner) Will (Nate Janis) unfolds in sparsely and smartly staged vignettes. Episodes of their romance dot across a timeline marked with potential visa interview questions: 

“Who buys the groceries?”

“When did you get engaged?”

Dated files are carted around in cardboard boxes and integrated into every interaction, from the quintessential cusp-of-cohabitation IKEA visit to dancing in the kitchen to comforting a grieving partner at his father’s funeral. Tension and arguments interject the tender moments when the living-in-limbo gets too stressful. The impending visa decision bleeds into everything: should they buy a table? will he ever meet her parents?

The pace may be a bit choppy to start, but the two find their rhythm soon enough with the help of touching physicality and direction by R. Lee Katzer, the two dancing tenderly, indeed, between each scene, a symbol of finding the joy amongst the stress.

Esmaeili is hurried and hopeful as Alina with Janis likeable and lovesick as Will; he finds depth in every line, utilising the rich script by Esmaeili to its full extent. The underscoring soundscape strongly elevates the piece, a dripping tap illuminating a shabby apartment, a New York street brought to life by the sound of cars whizzing by in the rain. 

This is beautiful, nuanced writing and acting that truly capture the authenticity of early love through an immigrant lens, with gentle comedy peppering throughout. With only one more day to witness this excellent gem of intimate theatre, hurry up and get yourself a ticket (and perhaps a tissue) and have a stumble up through cosy Riddle’s Court on 20th August 2022 at 5.30pm.

tenderly tickets: here

20 Aug | 5:30pm

Suitability: 14+ (Guideline)

photo credit Krystal Pagán