By Stephen Belber. Play Dead Theatre Company. The Court House Hotel, 86-90 Errol Street, North Melbourne. 27 April – 7 May 2016

A down market motel room in Lansing, Michigan.  A dishevelled guy, Vince (Michael Mack) in his underwear – restless, on tenterhooks, drinking.  He’s expecting someone.  Someone arrives: Vince’s best buddy from high school, Jon (Adam Hetherington).  Jon is a filmmaker, in town for a film festival with his latest movie.  Jon is idealistic about the power of cinema to influence society, but his movie sounds like schlock.  So right off there’s a little disparity between Jon’s view of Jon and Jon himself.  And Vince?  He’s a cheerful drug dealer…  Thus begins Tape - an intimate, tense three-hander that plays out in real time (just under an hour) in this motel room.   

Seems Vince seized the opportunity to fly in from California when he discovered Jon would be there – and – what an amazing, fortuitous coincidence – Amy, Vince’s first love at high school, lives right there, in Lansing, Michigan.  Vince wants revenge and he has a plan: to get Jon and Amy there, together, in the same room and see what happens.  Because after Amy and Vince broke up, Amy and Jon hooked up at a party and, ten years later, Vince hasn’t got over what happened…

This is a play with a dynamic in the present tense; it develops; the characters’ apparent motives are revealed as false as layer after layer is blown away.  There is the truth and there is what you want to believe.  The audience is held, completely absorbed, not because we ‘like’ Vince, Jon or Amy (we don’t – much), but by the most reliable trick in the dramatists’ book: you want to know what happens next. 

Of course, once Vince has manipulated Jon into a confession, Amy (Hester Van Der Vyver) - has to show up – and then things do not go quite the way the boys expect.

Here is another brave, independent theatre company choosing an interesting psychodrama which is achievable with a small and talented cast in a small space and with a minimum of resources. 

Aline Brugel – despite having the most pretentious program note of all time – has cleverly converted what was once maybe a studio apartment area upstairs at the Courthouse Hotel into the motel room.  There is space on two sides for maybe 20 seats.  (The show is intimate in more than one sense of the word: the actors are never more than three or four metres from you.)  

Michael Mack is very good as the frenetic, loathsome and ultimately pathetic Vince, playing the needling, cocky impertinence of a self-righteous loser just right.  Mr Hetherington’s Jon has some awfully verbose and pompous stuff to get across and perhaps he could inject just a little hesitation into Jon’s bullshit and thus sound less rehearsed or glib, but otherwise his portrayal of a stolid man who can’t adapt to rapid changes of circumstance is excellent. 

When Ms Van Der Vyve joins the boys, her level, controlled performance suggests that an adult has finally shown up: cool, authoritative and an Assistant District Attorney to boot.  Ms Van Der Vyve plays a subtle subtext too: it takes some courage for Amy to’ve shown up at all, but she’s a grown-up and let’s see what happens.  Only once does Amy lose her temper – and even that is ironic - before she calls these mired-in-the-past boys’ bluff. 

Tape, written in 1999 and performed numerous times since in the US and the UK, is a chamber piece that grips all the way through, played by a cast that is definitely worth watching.

Michael Brindley   

To keep up with the latest news and reviews at Stage Whispers, click here to like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.