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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Magic Theatre Presents Tape

Also see Richard's recent review of Homebody/Kabul and Sisters


The Magic Theatre presents the Off-Broadway hit Tape, by up and coming playwright Stephen Belber. This three person drama has an interesting background. It progressed from an Off-Off-Broadway production at the Access Theatre in Tribeca, where it attracted the interest of Ethan Hawke, to the 2000 Humana Festival in Louisville. It was then turned into a screenplay for an independent film starring Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman. Mr. Belber then tinkered with the austere dialogue and it appeared Off-Broadway. The Magic Theatre production is just a little over an hour long and it does not contain the revisions seen in New York; it does not show the middle aged futures of the three characters.

The play in set in a cheap motel room in Lansing, Michigan, where Jon, a determined, passionate filmmaker, is having his first indie movie premiered at a film festival. His longtime friend and high school best buddy has flown in from Oakland, California, to attend the premiere. Vince is a longtime solemn slacker who has done very little with his life. He has just broken up with his girlfriend because of his "violent temper." He is a minor drug dealer who uses his stock a little too much. He is also a volunteer fireman in Oakland, but only because he's the fire chief's drug connection.

Jon, who is staying at the upscale Radisson, gets together his old buddy Vince in Vine's cheap room to reminisce about old times. Jon treats Vince with benevolent smugness, telling him that he is wasting his life using drugs and dealing. Jon seems to believe that he has a moral superiority over the aimless Vince. However, Vince is not as dumb as he looks and acts. He has been harboring a jealous grudge for 10 years over the "date rape" of his high school girlfriend, Amy. It seems that Amy broke up with Vince just before graduation. Vince had never gone to bed with her during their three years together. On graduation night, Amy and Jon got drunk and had sex. This has bugged Vince all these ten years, whereas Jon has completely forgotten about that night.

Vince gets Jon to smoke a joint, then tricks him into confessing the date rape on tape. Another twist in this Hitchcock type drama is that Amy now lives in Lansing and she is the assistant district attorney. Vince has invited Amy to come to the room so they might go out for dinner and discuss old times. Amy has no idea that Jon will be there. When Amy arrives later in the play, it becomes a "Rashamon" game of "he said, she said." It becomes tense and intricate and finally there is a twist ending with Amy gaining the upper hand.

The writing reminds me of a David Mamet drama with machine gun dialogue between the hyper, coke snorting Vince and the smooth, possibly duplicitous Jon. Playwright Belber displays a great sense of dialogue between these two characters. The interplay dealing with the past and present is exciting.

James Asher is most convincing as the bright, decent guy who gradually must face his past. Gabriel Marin is superb as the super hyper-addled Vince. Jessice Turner displays a steely, self-confident Amy. Amy Glazer smoothly directed the short play. The motel set by Bruce McCleod is a paragon of naturalistic detail of a cheap motel room. The production is thoroughly engrossing and illuminates the evolving relationships among the three.

Tape runs through May 12 at the Magic Theatre, Bldg D, Ft. Mason Center, San Francisco. Tickets can be obtained by calling (415)441-8822. For more information visit www.magictheatre.org. The next play will be Charles L. Mee's First Love. It opens on June 7.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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