When Stephen Belber ‑ best known for his work on The Laramie Project ‑ wrote this neat little comic thriller in 2000, it was at the end of an era. The analogue voice recording technology on which the plot hinges ‑ the 'tape' ‑ was all but redundant. In 2001, Apple released its first generation iPod, and when Richard Linklater came to shoot his movie version of the play, also in 2001, he used digital cameras, one of the first films to be shot on that format.
And there's something redundant about Vince, too, the aggressive, twenty-something stoner who sets the events of this play in motion. Vince and Jon, his old high-school buddy, reunite at a Motel 6 in Lansing, Michigan. Jon, a suave young director, has a film showing at a local festival. He's feeling good about the world and himself. While Vince is staying in a seedy motel, Jon has a room at the Radisson. Eleventh floor. Overlooking a park. Vince, more-or-less adrift in life, wants to bring him down a peg or two.
Convinced that ten years ago, back in high school, Jon "kinda raped" Vince's ex-girlfriend, he tries to push Jon into a confession. But Jon remembers events differently. So does Amy, the ex-girlfriend who turns up at Vince's invitation.
But Vince is dogmatic. "Only you would come up with the term 'excessive linguistic pressure,'" he says to Jon. "That's not a normal expression. It's a clear sign of excessive bullshit." Vince has an old-fashioned moral code. An analogue moral code. For Vince there's only one version of the past, his version, and he won't admit manipulation.
It's a tight, crafty, well-made scenario and Broken Mirror do it justice. The movie version, a cult classic starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, looms large, but director Douglas Montgomery finds his own way into to the material. Where the movie seems to targeted the male sexual ego directly, here we get more of an emphasis on the hypocrisy of conventional morals.
As Amy, Imogen Hopper offers more exasperation than anger, more bewilderment than genuine pain. Jon, played with concentrated blandess by Bryce Padovan, doesn't seem much cured of his self-righteousness. By the end he still wears the same priggish mask he walked in with. Leon Kowalski has lots of fun as the hyperactive Vince in the most attractive of the show's performances.
The set ‑ a carefully detailed Motel 6 interior ‑ efficiently draws the audience into the strained triangle and the space is well negotiated by all. In parts the rhythm is a little mechanical, something like the regular spooling of a tape, but in its climaxes this is gripping stuff.
Tape is a standard of contemporary American theatre and is performed often and everywhere. Like the plays of Neil LaBute or Gabe McKinley, it offers great opportunities for energetic male leads to butt heads. The material is not necessarily original, but it is well finished. Broken Mirror have gone the extra mile in framing the event. There are video pieces presented before and after the show, giving interesting context to the company's interpretive choices and speaking to a real sense of engagement with problems raised by the story.
The venue, too, in Brunswick, is wonderfully hospitable and spacious and it'd be great to see it exploited more regularly. Apparently we'll be seeing a lot more of it during the fringe festival this year, which is something to look forward to.