The Vineyard Playhouse’s current production of Tape, opens on a set that itself poses a plot twist and a conundrum at the same time: Lights bear down on a typical off-highway motel room with twin beds, a banal color scheme of beige, gold and brown, a sink on one side rimmed by overhead white globes. Over in the right-hand corner, a vague charcoal-hued stain hints that a repaint of the unadorned walls is long overdue.
It’s a three-person play and a two-bed motel room. Something’s already intriguingly off-kilter.
Vince (Michael Urie), 28, handsome, with a mop of dark, rumpled curls, enters with a duffle bag and himself appears to be setting an indecipherable scene. He removes sneakers and ripped jeans. Stripped down to boxer shorts and a stained T-shirt, he seems possessed by a manic sense of not-rightness. He pulls a six-pack of beer from his duffle, then begins to pour each beer down the sink, crumpling the cans and tossing them around the room, every so often stopping for a long, appreciative and reflective swig.
At last a knock on the door. Jon (Ryan Spahn) and Vince clumsily embrace. There’s some awkwardness about Vince being partially undressed, but he makes no move to put his jeans back on. Jon himself is the very model of a college grad, ex-National Honors schoolboy, his short blond hair slicked back over an impassive mask of a face. He wears a button-down white shirt, beige blazer, and the $200 black shoes that his old high school pal ribs him about.
We quickly learn that Vince has traveled to Lansing for a premiere of his friend’s indie movie. Jon is more poshly installed at the Radisson across town.
At first Jon deploys all the ammunition of his relative success, his expensive shoes, his straight-arrow ways to rake the raggedy Vince over the coals: Why did he and his recent girlfriend break up? Vince is forced to admit she feared his violent tendencies. Jon gloats, “Women these days have no reason to hang out with potentially violent guys.” He also tells him, “Swear to God, you get stranger each year!”
The young filmmaker holds the firefighter from Oakland up as a superannuated adolescent: He’s only a volunteer, part-time firefighter, his real profession is dealing drugs. Mention of drugs only brings out Vince’s own caricature of himself. He unloads a bag of grass from his duffle, rolls a joint, takes a hit and offers it to Jon who coughs. Clearly it’s been a while.
But there’s more. As the sparring heats up, Vince quickly chops up some lines of cocaine and snuffles them up with an empty pen cartridge. But in his own demonic way, Vince is goading Jon to give up a dark secret lurking under the grownup Cub Scout. It involves Vince’s girlfriend from high school, Amy (Victoria Campbell). Voila! The third character. Vince has actually, in his own hapless, flailing, immature and nihilistic way, summoned all three old friends together to settle an ancient score.
Amy has found a home in Lansing. She’s the assistant district attorney, and she shows up from work in a trim purple blazer, a tight beige skirt, stockings and heels. Before she arrives, and in between their verbal and at one point physical skirmishes, the two men find themselves hoping she’s still “hot.” She is indeed.
The dialogue is snappy and the story has a fast-breaking edge to it. Truth and justice, misery and atonement all spill out in a trim 65 minutes, no intermission. Playwright Stephen Belber, with a long roster of movie, television and theatre credits to his name, originally wrote Tape as a screenplay. It was directed by the constantly amazing Richard Linklater (Waking Life, Before Sunset), starring Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, winning awards at Sundance and the Berlin film festivals.
Vineyard Playhouse director Claudia Weill has an extensive movie, television and theatre background and has made regular appearances at the Vineyard Playhouse. She delivers the taut hour-plus play with a seamlessness that is aided and abetted by the three actors’ finely delineated roles. Mr. Urie, Juilliard-trained and already recognizable from movie and TV roles such as Letters from Bagdad and Ugly Betty, plays Vince with a nervous authenticity that’s breathtaking to watch. (Later in the lobby, several admirers delivered the verdict to him that they expected to see him in Hangover 3. He pointed skyward, “From your lips to my ggent’s ear.”)
Mr. Spahn has won a cartful of theatre awards and is also known from such movie and TV offerings as Liars, Lunatics and Tanner on Tanner. As Jon, he’s a failed hero, a foil and a human aquiver with the possibility of redemption.
Ms. Campbell plays the savvy young professional, possessed of a possible tragic and unavenged past, with a stunning combination of subtlety and strength.
Tape marks the opening of the summer season at the Vineyard Playhouse. Producer and artistic director M.J. Bruder Munafo, with her usual grace and elegance, and clad in a luscious brown and orange Mandarin jacket, welcomed the sold-out audience to opening night. She was clearly pleased with the restoration that recently transformed the exterior of the building that dates back to 1833, first built as a Methodist Church. Fund-raising continues apace and Ms. Bruder Munafo expressed hope that interior rehabilitation will be achieved sometime in early 2012.
The set design, Room 32 at the Lansing, Michigan Motel 66, itself the fourth character in Tape, is by Lisa Pegnato, with carpentry by Christopher Kann and Mac Young. The continuously versatile Chelsea McCarthy provides the spot-on costumes. Lighting design is by Fred Hancock, sound design by Paul Munafo, stage manager is Kate Hancock, production manager Christine Lomaka.
Tape will run through June 18. Tickets may be purchased online at vineyardplayhouse.org or call the box office at 508 696-6300.