BWW Review: TAPE Traps Audiences at Theater On The Edge
Stephen Belber's dark comedy Tape takes over the small black box studio at Theater on the Edge, and not only invites the audience to become a part of the story, but demands it. The story occurs in a Lansing, Michigan Motel 6 in 1999 on a Friday in April. If you come to the show fifteen minutes early (and I suggest you do), you will watch as Vince sets up the scene. He arrives to the motel room with a bag that contains cans of beer. He rearranges some dilapidated decor items, rolls a joint, turns on the tv, and goes to sleep. He wakes up a bit later, takes off his clothes, pours several cans of beer down the sink and throws the empty cans all around the room. With a near-trashed hotel room and only clothed in a wifebeater and boxer shorts, it is apparent that he wants whomever is coming to think that he is wasted. Jon knocks on Vince's door, and we learn that the two are in town for a film festival that could be Jon's big break as a filmmaker. The two spend some time chatting and catching up, and a mutual love interest surfaces in conversation: Amy Randall.
It is revealed that though they dated for some time, Vince and Amy never had sex. Soonafter their breakup however, Amy slept with Jon. Vince claims that Amy told him that Jon date raped her. Vince becomes obsessed with, and eventually succeeds in getting a verbal confession from Jon about taking advantage of Amy. Vince then pulls out a tape recorder from his bag, and reveals that he had taped the entire confession. Jon is horrified, and Vince adds that Amy is on her way over to the hotel to go to meet him for dinner.
Amy arrives and is confronted by Jon who, after grappling with his guilt and fight or flight instincts, eventually apologizes. She denies that it was rape, which causes Jon to become irritated. There is a lot more awkward conversation that results in Amy calling the police on both Vince and Jon. Vince, in possession of cocaine and marijuana, wastes no time in making a run for it. Jon on the other hand, eager to prove his sincere repentance, chooses to wait for the police and face whatever consequences his 18-year-old self may have caused him. Amy reveals that she didn't really call the police, and in what I interpreted as a move of female dominance, passionately kisses Jon, hugs Vince and kisses him on the cheek, and leaves. Vince and Jon, absolutely befuddled, grab a can of beer and drink. Blackout.
This inconclusive and somewhat confusing ending leaves a lot of questions unanswered. As an audience member, you begin to ponder the components of motive, truth, memory, perception, denial, and manipulation. Did Vince convince Jon of doing something he didn't remember just by sheer persuasion? Did Amy manipulate both men into driving themselves crazy so that she could avenge her 18-year-old self? Were Vince and Amy in on it together? What happens next? This play is one for audience members who enjoy ambiguous, open-ended conclusions.
Though Zack Roundy, Joey Ginel, and Megan Raitano (as Vince, Jon, and Amy, respectively) gain credibility with the audience overtime, the initial pacing of the one act seems robotic and insincere, even given the awkward nature of the conversation topic. The real selling point of this show is the atmosphere that is created for it.
The thirty-seat black box venue establishes the audience as the fourth wall of the motel room. This is an extremely easy task, as the set is transparently authentic down to every detail: the working hotel a/c unit, television, and sink, the dated framed photographs on the walls, the floral duvet on the bed; all aspects that are the result of Samantha DiGeorge's genius. In the program, she touches on her nontraditional approach at designing a hyper-realistic set for a blackbox theatre, a component that enables this production to soar to success.
An additional impressive technical element is the sound design. Most notably, the element of music. Songs from the 90's first play as the audience takes their seats. Then, when Vince turns on the tv and flips through a couple channels, he lands on the music video of the song playing. Once he goes to sleep, the television's sleep timer turns off, and the music fades to the radio on his bedside table which wakes him up. These transitions are not only seamless, but make the audience feel as though they've been part of the scene for longer than they've realized.
Tape at Theater on the Edge is a theatrical experience that is few and far between. It is intimate, anxiety-inducing, and with so much energy, anger, and aggression bouncing between the four walls, the audience has no choice but to internalize these emotions along with the characters. You will lose yourself in this high-stakes story, and then talk about it for hours after the bows.
What: Stephen Belber's Tape at Theater on the Edge
Length: 85 minutes (plus a 20-minute pre-show)
Where: 5542 Hansel Avenue Orlando, FL 32809
When: March 3 - 19
Cost: $19 - $22
Contact: www.theaterontheedge.org or (407) 334-1843