Tape is not a play with perfect characters or comfortable resolution. What makes Tape uncomfortable to watch is that the characters all feel like people we know. We all went to school with Vince, Jon, and Amy. Perhaps we even see some of ourselves in one (or more) of the characters.
Tape follows Jon, Vince, and Amy, who are reunited in a hotel room ten years after they graduated from high school. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will say that the play explores sexual consent and the obligations we feel to people with whom we have shared history.
I had the opportunity to briefly talk with the director of Tape (Matt J. Bannister) before the show. One thing that he said that struck me was that he was acutely aware of the fact that this is a play about “an incident” that occurs to a woman, written by a man and directed by a man. The first 45 minutes of the play are just two men talking. Despite the physical absence of a female voice for a large part of the play, Tape successfully creates a space where that female voice is heard.
The set (designed and dressed by David M. Moretti) was an incredibly accurate representation of every budget motel in the Midwest. The color scheme felt perfectly dated and implied a level of grime on the walls that struck the perfect chord for the room. Lighting (designed by Steve Knapp) further added to the ambiance while still appropriately lighting the action.
The play opens with Vince (Mike Rudden) alone in the room, drinking beer. Then, Jon (Joe Waeyaert) arrives and the two realize how much Jon has changed while Vince has remained the same. Waeyaert’s portrayal of a self-righteous filmmaker who has trouble accepting responsibility for his actions was so well done that it made my skin crawl. Rudden had to be pathetic, low-brow, and violent all while staying likable and funny – and he delivered. It is hard to like Rudden’s Vince, but it is so much harder not to like him.
Rudden and Waeyaert masterfully breathed life into what could easily have felt like aimless dialogue. Once things really began to pick up, the plot escalated quickly. The stage combat (designed by Anna Kurtz) felt very character appropriate- it was not polished or refined, making it feel like a scuffle between two people who don’t normally get into fights.
The play is typically presented without an intermission, and I almost wish that this production followed suit because I really wanted to keep seeing the momentum build. That being said, the place Bannister chose to put an intermission was excellent.
Amy (Brianna Goode) arrived after intermission and immediately stole the show. Goode began very closed off, with flighty physicality. She made Amy’s transition into a strong fighter with agency over her narrative look effortless and realistic.
Goode, Waeyaert, and Rudden worked deftly together throughout the second act, working painful dialogue while still allowing for moments of true comedy to bubble to the surface. The end of the play is punctuated by excellent projection work, created by Bannister.
Yes, Tape is an uncomfortable play. Yes, you need to see it. The aesthetics, stellar casting, and necessary show content make Tape at Dominion Stage a standout production by a theater company known for standout productions.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.