Stephen Belber
Yaller Skunk Theatre Company
Old Red Lion Theatre

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Something's rotten in the state of Michigan. In a motel room, old schoolfriends Vince and Jon (Kevin Watt and Mark Curtis, co-founders of Yaller Skunk Theatre Company) are drinking, getting high and revisiting the events of ten years ago, when they last saw one another. Jon's perception of that night is that he slept with Vince's ex-girlfriend; Vince sees things differently and is determined to show Jon his point of view.

That isn't what's rotten.

The production crams Tape's big themes - can people change? does true forgiveness exist, and if people can change sufficiently, do we need it to? - into the intimate space that is the Old Red Lion, with explosive results. Belber's play is pacey, dialogue-driven as opposed to wordy, and crazed through with dramatic reversals - of power balance and of self-perception. In 75 minutes, the only pause for breath is a convincingly inelegant tussle for the eponymous tape.

What's rotten is that it's hard to care.

For the first ten minutes, Jon and Vince each state and repeatedly reiterate that the other is a dick. They're both right. Vince is a waster with a vindictive streak, unable to apply himself to anything more constructive than petty revenge. Jon is a self-satisfied pseudophilosopher who psychoanalyses his friends to prove he's cleverer than them.

Which means the closest we come to emotional investment in the show is a shock of schadenfreude when the ex-girlfriend in question, Amy (Tara Carrozza), arrives and, within minutes, reframes the boys' great moral debate as the petty schoolyard squabble it is.

Absent any love for either Jon or Vince, it takes some effort to care about the outcome of the reunion - and by extension their ongoing moral welfare - on anything other than an intellectual level. Intellectual curiosity doesn't translate well into dramatic tension, and without that, even being towed behind the runaway juggernaut that is Belber's script starts to lose its exhilarating appeal.

Until 24 April

Reviewer: Matt Boothman

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