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Tender Napalm, a new play by the East London playwright Philip Ridley, is as close as theater is likely to come to the Platonic Ideal of a Pure Play. Its set is a rectangle on the floor; the lights are static; there is no music; the costumes look like comfy clothes the actors chose themselves. And I hope they did! Because the real (only) visual element of this “theater” is the acrobatic athleticism displayed by Blake Ellis and Amelia Workman, who play “Man” and “Woman” respectively. The same artistic impulse forms the drama around two archetypes (note the characters’ names). You might categorize the dramatic conflict as a “battle of the sexes,” which would not be incorrect. But in truth, “sex” is just a way of saying “two complementary but diametrically opposed positions.” And Ridley makes a point of telling us Man and Woman can (and do) switch places very easily.
The Brooklyn Lyceum used to be a public bath house, one of those grand, old public works erected during the borough’s Gilded Age efflorescence. It was left derelict during the 70s, and now it is a cavernous, unfinished space with exposed brick walls, thirty-foot-high ceilings, and interior structures built of plywood and wood screws covered in cheap bluish primer. Functionally it’s like a page in a Medieval manuscript scraped clean of its original writing, though incompletely erased marks of its past peep through. The whir of the ceiling fans sounds like crickets, and the lights flicker like gas lamps.