One act, one scene plays are a staple of theatrical storytelling, and Tape, a tight one hour play by Stephen Belber, one of the contirbutors to The Laramie Project, has become a staple of contemporary theatre since its first performance in 2000.
In part, this is because of its language steeped in the interrogative vogue of many late-90s works, but also because of the tensions rippling across the skins of its three characters. Done well, the play seduces with the easy patter and energy of the American rhythm, before suddenly twisting into jags of barely-contained violence and accusation. Approached clumsily, however, and the brinksmanship of the narrative falls apart like fairy floss in the rain.
There is no such issue here with Broken Mirror’s able production. In the hands of director Douglas Montgomery and his capable cast, Belber’s text retains its sharp and supple aspects in equal measure.
The set design is a study in simple naturalism, being a sparse, low-budget motel roo. It’s here that Vince (Leon Kowalski) has holed up, with weed, coke and booze, to reunite with an old high-school buddy, Jon (Bryce Padovan), who is in town to promote his film on the festival circuit.
The easy camaraderie of old friends quickly evaporates as Vince reveals his intent: to ensnare Jon into a confession of past sexual misconduct against Vince’s then flame, Amy. As Vince, Kowalski offers a seemingly effortless performance that’s raffish and buoyant, but edged with dangerous charm and chemically-enhanced energy, and his timing and sense of play anchor the production.
Padovan, as Jon, brings a less compelling but sympathetic and approachable performance of a self-justifying intellectual caught in Vince’s snare. Padovan would benefit from more surety in his actions; the actor’s mannerisms reveal themselves a degree too much for him to be entirely convincing, but it is a solid performance despite his gestural distractions.
Imogen Hooper also brings a steely realism to her role as Amy, the last piece of Tape’s puzzle and possibly the hardest to role to nail. Hooper handles the ethical landscape superbly in her portrayal of the perennially delicate subject that forms the play’s central conceit.
Montgomery’s direction feels so assured it is almost invisible and, besides one or two facets of performance and staging, he has presented this text with a keen eye and a fine ear for the rhythms that drive it. This is tight, sharp theatre, that flags Broken Mirror as a company to observe closely.