By KAREN SHADE, 08/18/2008
When watching theater is part of your job description, you start to hold it against the production groups that put you through two-plus hours of bad accents, bad singing or just bad judgment. What in Hamlet's name were they thinking?
Credit goes to the Nightingale Theater for giving us a one-act version of Stephen Belber's "Tape," but I'm conflicted – contradictory, even.
Whereas, we see a story that asks us to buy into a lot, "Tape" makes it hard to keep your eyes off it.
Two old friends from high school, Jon and Vincent, meet up ten years following the night Jon wants to forget but that Vincent has chewed on since.
Jon is an up-and-comer in film and arrives in Lansing, Mich., where his first important movie is about to be screened at a film festival. He finds Vincent, a volunteer fire fighter/dope dealer, at a Motel 6 in his skivvies where he's been dancing around beer cans scattered across the floor. Let the tension begin.
Director Sara Cruncleton and John Cruncleton as Vincent (yes they're related) do not disguise his character's grudge against Jon (Joseph Gomez). Revving up for the confrontation, Vincent turns coolly hostile the moment his old pal enters the room. What follows is an exercise in well-studied timing and character play no doubt owing to the actors' and the director's faith in the script.
Vincent needles a confession out of Jon that he raped Amy, a girl they both dated in high school, after graduation. Vincent, then, scampers to his gym bag and pulls out a small tape recorder to show he has the confession on tape. If that's not a stinger, Vincent then tells Jon that Amy, now an attorney, lives nearby and is expected to drop in soon.
Let it be said here, Belber's one-act script makes one wonder why either character would be up for the accusations and threats they shuffle between them, particularly in the conscientious Jon.
Maybe the clues are scripted in the full-length version of the play. But good chemistry comes in for the save. You sense some history between John Cruncleton and Gomez, perhaps symptomatic from a long personal association as friends and collaborators at the Nightingale, and much improved from their pairing in this spring's "Faustus."
But "Tape" isn't their story alone. Amy (Cassie Hollis) steps in to play with the legal pedigree and back story to really shake things up.
Hollis, however, looked out of place in Saturday night's show as if she, too, were brand new and trying to find a foothold in the story. She never quite joins the loop – "Tape" is about the relational dynamics between three people, but Hollis' under-realized Amy is more a distraction to "Tape's" outcome than the steadfast means to the play's tidy conclusion.
We don't know exactly what happened between Jon and Amy after graduation, which is the crux of a work hinged on interpretation of events, but eventually we do witness some delicate renderings of motivation and underlying patterns from actors Gomez and Cruncleton. Director Cruncleton and Belber, however, can't entirely win this one.
"Tape" may be a better play in its full-length, offering more smart dialogue and runway space to better draw its characters, but I'm not especially curious to find out.
Nightingale's quick-draw telling will do just fine.