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Darker, artistic 'Tape' to highlight character exploration

By Anna Sadovskaya, Senior Arts Editor
Published February 13, 2013

Pulling out the tape recorder, Vince realizes he has finally gotten what he wants: Jon has admitted to date-raping Amy Randall, both Vince’s and Jon’s ex-girlfriend, and Vince has it on tape. In this motel room, right before Jon’s newest film shows in a Lansing film festival, Vince has finally gotten redemption for the years he has spent in search of the truth … but, now what?

Stephen Belber’s one-act, no-intermission play, “Tape,” centers around three characters: Jon, Vince and Amy, all of whom are dealing with their present while inadvertently being dragged into the past. As Amy comes face-to-face with Jon and Vince, all three must realize a way to move forward from the harrowing event.

Elliot Cruz, School of Music, Theatre & Dance junior and director of the play, acknowledged that the darker performance isn’t a typical Basement Arts production.

“It definitely seems like it wouldn’t be a go-to Basement show,” Cruz said. “But I actually think that ‘Tape’ is a perfect Basement show, because it’s so short and because it’s set in one location, there’s not a lot of moving around, and so there’s a tightness to it that is really satisfying. But it’s short enough that it still resonates.”

Constructing the set, Cruz employed a minimalist approach. Though the production is usually done by recreating a motel room on stage, Cruz relied on the actors’ performance and audience’s inference to create the space.

“(Building) walls for Basement scares me,” Cruz admitted. “I’m always worried they’re going to fall over or something.

“So my stage manager, Tristan, and I went out the other day and got a sink. We’re also getting a toilet,” Cruz continued. “It’s the little things like that that give you an idea: This is a bathroom because there’s a toilet over there. And this is obviously a motel room, because you have the two full-sized beds — these things that really denote a motel without building an entire room.”

Similar to the uncluttered set, the story is linear and simple, relying on the acting to carry it forward. Belber wrote the script with the actors in mind, designing it as a play to show their acting prowess rather than moving the audience with a meaningful message.

“It is completely actor-driven,” Cruz said. “Because of that, it’s super important to know that this is first and foremost an actor’s play — there’s nothing to distract from it.”

To help keep the production fast-paced, Cruz and the actors had to dive deep into the motives of the characters and discover what it was that made them act the way they did.

“There are a lot of questions about these characters and nothing is revealed in the script, so you have to do a lot of character work,” Cruz explained. “That’s been the biggest challenge for me as a director and for the actors — just trying to find reason to stay on stage when you know (as the character) you should leave.”

Though leaving the audience with more questions than answers, Cruz said he hopes the viewers will be able to appreciate the intense acting and to place themselves in the shoes of the performers, internalizing the conflicts and deciding what they would do themselves.

“There are a few moments that really are meant to shock the audience, and turn everything on its ear,” Cruz said. “I’m sure audience members will walk out wondering, ‘What about this,’ ‘What about that,’ but the playwright said, ‘If there is a reason for ambiguity, it’s to turn the question the audience is asking on themselves.’ ”

“Tape” opens on Valentine’s Day, hoping to draw theater-lovebirds together through the art of performance.

“I want them to walk away with an experience of enjoyment, or a great piece of theater,” Cruz said. “But it’s very much a play where you walk away thinking, ‘That was interesting. I wonder … I just wonder.’ ”