Review: TENDER RAIN at Syracuse Stage

A world premiere by Kyle Bass

By: May. 08, 2023
Review: TENDER RAIN at Syracuse Stage

Syracuse Stage is currently offering a world premiere play by resident playwright Kyle Bass. Tender Rain is an intriguing play and certainly stimulated hours of discussion on our drive home. It took time to unravel the events of the play's past and untangle the complex character relationships, like unsnarling knots out of a fine gold chain.

It is a difficult play to review because so much hinges on secrets that are necessarily revealed at the end of the play. To discuss specific events would spoil the experience. Set in the South in the mid-1950's, playwright Kyle Bass thrusts us into a world where taboo subjects are not addressed, much like William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County where whispers and gossip imprison his characters.

The play revolves around Milton Millard, a white, middle-aged banker and his relationships with the women in his life: his deeply troubled wife Delores, his mistress Mary and Ruthie Mimms, an older black woman who raised him like her own child. Each of these women hides unspeakable secrets with and from Milton.

Brian Dykstra as Milton flashes a mercurial personality, at times cold and emotionally unreachable, at other times warm and loving but always with an underlying fragility and sensitivity. Marjorie Johnson brings both steely determination and tenderness to Ruthie, a loving woman who needs to be tough, knowing the world is unforgiving. Her Ruthie has learned to navigate a life of secrets and denials and emerge stronger and wiser. LeeAnne Hutchison portrays the broken Delores Millard with a delicate, gauzy frailty. Jenny Strassburg's Mary Honeycutt is appropriately strident and dissatisfied as Milton's mistress. However, she lacks a sense of desperation needed to justify her actions. The strong performances throughout, including those of the supporting cast, spotlight the high level of professionalism at Syracuse Stage.

With Se Hyun Oh's minimalistic set punctuated by intermittent rain falling on the stage, the production directs our focus on the actors and creates a dream-like atmosphere. The lighting by Dawn Chiang enhances the mood and defines the dimensionality of the characters. Period costumes by Tracy Dorman specify the uniqueness of each individual.

Because Tender Rain is a premiere, it is impossible to review the production without critiquing the play itself. Kyle Bass's dialogue is fluent and rich and at times rises to the level of naturalistic poetry. His strongest scenes are those where two characters on stage speak honestly and intimately. These scenes are not only beautiful but they reveal to the audience the inner tempest of each character's struggle.

One theme of Tender Rain involves the tragic consequence of history repeating itself. Much of the action of the play relies on unspoken events from the past, the shameful secrecy of remorse. It asks whether our recurring faults are caused by flawed humanity or our unwillingness to expose them and beg forgiveness. The concept moves the plot almost obsessively into guilt-ridden silences. This theme works to heighten the poetry and establish the mood, but by holding the secrets so close, the audience has difficulty sharing the moral and ethical discoveries the characters make as they grow. Perhaps the secrets are held too long and the reveal comes too late in the play. Maybe the audience would be better served by being privy to the secrets behind the characters' struggles rather than waiting for a surprise ending.

Kyle Bass is a talented playwright and has offered up a thoughtful and evocative evening of entertainment. It is a premiere well worth seeing and talking about as you leave the theatre and beyond.

Tender Rain runs through Sunday, May 21st. Tickets can be purchased by visiting or by calling (315) 443-3275 or by visiting the box office at 820 East Genesee Street.

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