The first question that came into my head after watching Knife Edge Production’s remount of Stephen Belber’s Tape, was “Why this play? Why now?” Even as the query formed in my mind, I had already arrived upon the answer. Here is a play produced by actors, to give themselves meaty roles that would showcase them to a greater audience. It is a noble cause; certainly involving bravery and commitment on their parts. What’s more, the actors chose a play with an immediate social relevancy asking: at what point is “rough sex” considered date rape, and whose call is it to make?
In fact, similar headlines involving students, date rape, and underage parties that go too far still circulate throughout the news. The scenarios resound with familiarity and more commonly than not involve upper middle class, white, sheltered young people experimenting with excess and danger for the first times in their lives. It calls to mind the Duke University lacrosse team incident, and countless other personal accounts that go undocumented outside of carefully engineered politically corrected sex-ed videos. The only elements that date this play are the preshow music- an earsplitting blast of 80’s hair bands and “Bad Medicine,” and the method of entrapment used on one friend by another- namely a tape recorder.
Otherwise the play existed in a kind of time warp, stuck inside a cheap room at Motel 6, with a row of lockers and a High School logo superimposed in the background. A safe but strong choice, the presence of the high school was clearly felt by all three characters, and thus represented in the setting. You could almost hear the shouts and whistles of a high school basketball game reverberate off the walls, though aside from a solo moment of teenage anguish when Vince bangs against the metal doors and slides down to a crouch against them, these elements played no part in the actual story.
The actors each delivered convincing and carefully acted performances. Neil Holland as Jon exuded a kind of new car smell and reflected the optimism and self-assurance indicative of his character’s youth and newfound coolness. Don DiPaolo clearly enjoyed every moment he spends on stage, and at times indulged himself in his Vince’s neuroses and drug induced peaks and falls. Though they both fully inhabited their characters, at times their dialogue felt overly indicative and a bit hollow. If the two actors are friends in real life, very little of that natural rapport was felt in their give and take, but just that they had rehearsed their buddy buddy bit.
When Amy enters the scenario the drama accelerates and the relationships and speech patterns flow more naturally.
Overall the production was clean and compelling. Though neither Vince nor Jon are particularly sympathetic characters, their conflict and the subsequent engagement of Amy, winningly portrayed by Therese Plaehn keeps our attention until the end. The director, Sam Helfrich didn’t over complicate the play with too many extraneous details, though at times it felt as though there were opportunities for comedy that were plowed through. The momentum of the rising tension and dramatic climax was the singular focus, and moments of levity or contrast were barely registered.
Tape by Stephen Belber, Directed by Sam Helfrich, plays at the June Havoc Theatre at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex September 9-24, 2011Tickets available on Ovation Tix- https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/849375