The 2000 Humana Festival of New Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville has become a real breeding ground for the 2001-02 New York theatre season. First, Charles L. Mee's Big Love became a hot ticket at BAM, with rumors afoot that the show might even transfer to Manhattan Theatre Club. Next, coming up this winter, Alexandra Cunningham's No. 11 (Blue and White), about high-school angst, will get an Off-Broadway staging.
Now comes word that another Humana drama, Stephen Belber's Tape, will reach Off Broadway, starting Jan. 8 at the Jose Quintero Theatre on West 42nd Street. Opening Jan. 17 for a limited run, the slightly-revised play will star Josh Stamberg (An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein), Alison West and Dominic Fumusa, the latter a member of the original cast in Louisville.
An edgy drama that delves into the ideas of social and personal responsibility, Tape concerns a reunion of pals at a regional film festival. Filmmaker Jon attends the Lansing Film Festival and meets up with Vince (Fumusa), who never let go of an incident involving Jon and a high school girlfriend, Amy, now a district attorney.
Geoffrey Naufft's directs Tape, which was developed at Off-Off Broadway's Access Theatre in 1999 and also made into a recent movie starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Robert Sean Leonard.
As one of the principal writers of The Laramie Project, author Belber made five trips to Laramie, Wyoming, where he interviewed scores of people. He subsequently played several of these people in the off Broadway production. His “Rashomon”-like experiences interviewing so many different people — and getting so many different accounts of the same “truth” — served as a direct link to his three-character drama, Tape. “I think Tape sprang from those two years in a lot of ways,” Belber told PBOL film columnist Eric Grode in November. “We base so much of our lives on our perceptions, and when you’re confronted with a varying perception of that reality, you have to re-evaluate everything.” Despite his interest, it took a direct request to get Tape rolling at first. “Two actor friends approached me and asked me to write something they could sink their teeth into,” Belber said. “‘Something kind of Sam Shepard-y,’ they said.” Tape, which unfolds in real time in a dingy hotel room, largely revolves around two old friends, one of whom tricks the other into admitting — on tape — to a sexual assault committed 10 years earlier. The plot thickens when Amy, the alleged victim, arrives at the room and throws both characters’ memories into question.
Belber has said he looks forward to juggling film and theatre projects. He’s working on a screenplay, writing a new play and reworking an older play called Drifting Elegant for The Directors Company. And Tape has come full circle: He has been writing some new monologues and new material for the play, which now stars the two actors who approached him in the first place. Belber says he regretted moving on without these actors for the movie version, “but if there’s any justice, the people funding this production are people I met through making this movie.”
Designing Tape at the Jose Quintero Theatre are George Xenos (set), Sarah Beers (costumes), Greg MacPherson (lighting) and Roger Raines (sound). Naked Angels, a once-high-profile downtown theatre company that launched a number of well-known actors, playwrights and directors, has resurfaced to produce the play, with Ilana Levine and Sherri Kotimsky at the production helm. Tape is the company's first full production since 1999's Shyster.
For tickets ($25) and information on Tape at the Quintero, 534 West 42nd St., call (212) 244-7529.
— By David Lefkowitz and Eric Grode