“Tape,” by Stephen Belber is playing at the June Havoc Theatre on 36th Street in mid-town Manhattan. “Tape” is a pitch-perfect study of the perpetual adolescence of the American male. I am not sure if there is a European male equivalent or even one a European will understand, other than the Scottish writer J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” and the “I won’t grow up” syndrome it inspired. What with the juvenile lockers, brown-bagged lunches and hierarchical Darwinism that goes on, most of the Americans I know would have happily skipped high school given half the chance. The men in “Tape” can’t seem to forget what happened to them there, nor forgive, not even ten years later.
Vince (Don DiPaolo) is a drug dealer staying in Lansing, Michigan at a crappy Motel 6 waiting to meet his long-time friend John (Neil Holland), who is about to have his movie debut at the local film festival. It’s an important weekend for John, and Vince knows this. John knocks at the door, and throughout the following 80 minutes, the two men vie for who is top dog and bait each other, with John telling Vince he could “do better” with his life, and Vince asking if he mistakenly invited his mother over instead of his friend John. They both get high, drink, and then begin to re-hash high school rivalries: specifically, the one concerning a woman, Amy (the terrific Therese Plaehn) who Vince dated but did not sleep with, and whom John did sleep with but did not date. Vince goads John into admitting that he raped Amy, and, guess what? Vince gets the confession on tape. John wants it, but Vince refuses. What will he do with the tape?
One of the things he could do is give it to Amy, since, to John’s growing horror, that morning Vince invited her to go out to dinner. Once Amy, now an assistant district attorney, shows up, all is not what it appears to be. Without giving anything away, it becomes increasingly clear that it is not a man’s world, they are not in control, and the one who grew up is the one with the power. The final wielding of that power is what makes “Tape” all the more delicious.
This play premiered at the Humana Festival in 2000, and there is a curious innocence about it. It was written before September 11, 2001, and I saw it the night before the ten year anniversary of 9/11, when there has been so much media during the last few weeks, in print, onscreen and on radio, that all I want to do on the anniversary is sit in a dark room with a candle and be a non-participant. “Tape” reminded me of a more innocent time, when the most people had to worry about was who screwed the wrong girl in high school, who was still a loser, and who was top dog. I found it refreshing, really.