Everything but the truth

Tape, a play by Stephen Belber, opens with a spasmodic but likable young man named Vince alone in a Motel 6 room in Lansing. He is unsettled and erratic, a playful yet menacing man-child, jumping on the bed and fussing with a black duffel bag filled with cans of Molson. He opens two cans of beer, and as he drinks down one, he pours the other in a trash can.

Belber’s play debuted at Louisville, Kentucky’s Humana Festival of New American Plays in 2000. A year later, the piece was adapted into a film, directed by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman. In the program notes for this production of Tape, by Detroit-Windsor collective Breathe Art Theatre Project, local director Demetri Vacratis states simply: “Tape is about perception.”

Vince has flown in from the West Coast to see his friend’s film debut at the Lansing Film Festival. From the start, we find out that his character (played by Dylan MacDonald) is a man with violent tendencies. When Jon (Chris Roady), Vince’s ex-best friend from high school, enters, it becomes clear that Vince isn’t looking for a beer-swilling reunion. He’s intent on resurrecting an event that took place between Amy, his former sweetheart, and Jon.

After an hour and 15 minutes of Jon and Vince drudging up memories and dislocating their egos, some disquieting questions are raised. Vince accuses Jon of sexually assaulting Amy in high school. Then he reveals he has invited Amy, who happens to live in Lansing, to hang out with the two of them. It’s not easy to figure out if Amy is being dragged into a mess or if she’s the source of it. The dialogue isn’t particularly clever, sometimes shrinking to flavorless or dated cliché. And the play takes its time drawing in the audience. But when it does, innuendo and intention yank the characters around like puppets in a Punch and Judy show.

Vince is dogged by his memory of what happened between his best friend and best girl, his recollection of the event pieced together from half-truths and the monsters in his mind. Meanwhile, Jon is on a self-righteous kick, the spotlight soon to shine on him when his film hits the festival screen. Jon pummels Vince with hyper-critical and hypocritical words, until Vince gets aggressive. The ex-friends could be trying to torment each other or merely searching for peace. When Amy (Lisa Betz), now a successful assistant district attorney, shows up, she thinks she’s coming for a happy reunion. But does she represent justice or revenge? The tension rises, thanks to actress Betz, who applies both sweet and severe attitudes as accurately as her red lipstick.

Tape leaves you questioning your own perceptions. Although we never quite discover what happened 10 years ago between the three of them, the details aren’t important. The truth is that the truth is different for everyone, and getting to the bottom of it all is a process that’s anything but comfortable and easy; it is a quagmire. Director Vacratis is correct: Tape is a window into perception.

There’s also an important and appropriate question to contend with: What do we consider loyalty? Is a friend a perpetual cheerleader, or someone who is willing to take great risks and draw out our deepest, darkest insecurities? The latter, at least, offers an opportunity to get rid of that garbage for good.


Through Sept. 24 at 1515 Broadway in Grand Circus Park. 313-549-4108.

Anita Schmaltz writes about the arts for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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