When you get to your 20th or 30th high-school reunion, you inevitably find that a former cheerleader has acquired sofa butt, the bushy-haired class president sports a pathetic combover, and the weird kid who ate his boogers in science class now owns Connecticut. But at 10 years out, not enough time has passed to witness the physical deterioration and spirit-crushing failures of your classmates -- truly the only reason for attending such a soiree.
A fun option, however, is to stage a hostile confrontation. That's what happens in the three-person reunion in Stephen Belber's Tape, now receiving an excellent staging by the Night Kitchen at Dobama Theatre. (By the way, if the play's title sounds familiar, that's because there was a movie version, starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman.) It's set in a Motel 6 in Lansing, Michigan, where Vince is ostensibly attending the screening of his buddy Jon's film at the local film festival. But it's clear from the outset that Vince has a hidden agenda. These two school pals have taken very different paths in the past decade: While smooth-talking Jon is crafting a promising career in cinema, the emotionally combustible Vince is a volunteer fireman who's peddling drugs to his fire chief.
It doesn't take long before Jon is reflexively offering Vince unwelcome criticism ("You think manhood is just putting on Eddie Cochran and screwing your girl"). But Vince fires back with the startling claim that, at the end of senior year, Jon had date-raped Vince's girlfriend, Amy. Initially, Jon claims that he only used "excessive linguistic pressure" to bed Amy, but eventually he admits to using force -- a statement that Vince gleefully reveals he has captured on a hidden tape recorder.
Belber's taut one-act script is fascinating and often quite funny, as it draws these two oddly matched friends into a vortex of accusation and recrimination. Paced like a David Mamet play, with the lean efficiency and directness of a William Trevor short story (albeit without Trevor's refined language), Tape hits its high point when Amy herself shows up for a rendezvous arranged by Vince to torment Jon. But Vince doesn't quite get the payback he's hoping for.
Under the tight direction of Adrienne Moon, the Night Kitchen cast does an admirable job. Greg Wenz gives impulsive Vince a believable core, never going over the top -- even when the character is overreacting. As Jon, Justin Tatum displays the artificial veneer that comes with being on the fringe of the movie business. And Kristen Ashenbach plays Amy, an assistant district attorney, with an air of mystery and professional élan.
Clearly, we are not supposed to know what really happened during that date in high school, but to ponder instead the slipperiness of truth, the vagaries of individual perceptions, and the perplexities of human relationships. From the start to the unconventional curtain call, this production takes that journey in a totally involving manner.
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