Pink Banana’s “Tape” checks into the Downtown Best Western
Pink Banana’s Juanita Cordova Schuelke and Fjosh Redbeard met for our interview in Room 902 of the Best Western Hotel at Third Street and Wisconsin. Two rows of six chairs each stood near the west wall. The audience will fill those chairs when PB stages Stephen Belber’s Tape Nov. 8-21. Maybe a yard separates the front row from the bed.
“It will be intense,” Redbeard said.
“Insanely intense,” Schuelke added.
Schuelke, one of the co-founders of Pink Banana in 2004, is co-directing the show with Redbeard, who is usually the company’s technical director.
“I could never have built this better as a set,” Redbeard said. “We’re even using the room’s phone as a sound effect.”
Normally, an actor speaking into a phone on stage speaks to no one through a dummy phone. In this show, someone will make an actual call and hold a conversation. The audience will be so close that the distant voice will be audible.
The task of finding a hotel room as a theatrical venue fell to Redbeard. The company’s name made that task a little harder than it might have been.
“The name is a little phallic,” Schuelke said. “But I want to stress that there is NO sex in this show. And only very brief, very safe violence. ”
The Best Western manager, who had done some acting himself back in the day, was willing to listen. Redbeard and Schuelke can’t say enough about the hotel’s hospitality to the company. They got a great rate on the room, the hotel has agreed to keep the whole floor open unless they run out of rooms on other floors, has given the company a second room for actress Gwen Zupan to occupy during her off-stage time, and has even helped them make the normally pleasant room a little seedier, to fit the show.
“They had a nice, big flat-screen TV in here,” Redbeard said. “That was all wrong. They found an old TV for us to use and brought it up here.”
Belber’s 1999 play tells the story of two old high school friends getting together after 10 years. Jon (Rob Maass), a struggling filmmaker, is about to have premiere at a film festival. Vince (Matt Kemple), a part-time firefighter and part-time drug dealer, travels to the festival, ostensibly to support his old buddy. The festival happens to be in the city where Vince’s high-school girlfriend, Amy, is now an assistant district attorney.
Belber set the play amid the Lansing (Mich.) Film Festival, with Jon staying at an upscale hotel and Vince in a Motel 6, where the two friends and meet and where the story unfolds. Schuelke and Redbeard changed the script’s references to Lansing to Milwaukee and the Milwaukee International Film Festival.
“Jon wants his films to be popular, showing in a theater near you,” Redbeard said. “But they’re not.”
Vince hammers Jon for still being a student filmmaker at 29. Amy, naturally, turns out to be the source of friction between them. It seems that she had sex with Jon shortly after she broke up with Vince, an affront that has festered within Vince for a decade. The exact nature of that sexual encounter is the crucial point of the play.
“Belber was trying to write a comedy about date rape,” Redbeard said.
Amy shows up well into the play. Her perspective on past events differs from those of both Jon and Vince.
“It’s about human relationships and perceptions,” Schuelke said. “It’s about how people can live through the same experience and tell very different stories about it. Tape‘s story gets very twisty, and so do the characters’ intentions.”
Tape runs 80 minutes without intermission. Given the intimacy of the setting, you won’t be able to escape once the show begins, and no one will be admitted late. Parking is a challenge at this location; give yourself plenty of time. The directors advise a pre-show stop at the restroom — the one in the lobby. Jon, the character (and Maass, the actor), will be taking a shower in Room 902 as the play begins.
Pink Banana will open Tape with a pay-what-you-can performance at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8. The company will take calls for reservations starting at noon Monday at 414-698-8991 for this performance only.
Subsequent shows are set for 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays Nov. 12-13 and 19-20, and at 4 p.m. Sundays Nov. 14 and 21; tickets are $15. With just 12 seats, the show is certain to sell out. PB WILL SELL NO TICKETS AT THE DOOR; ADVANCE TICKETS REQUIRED. Tickets are on sale online only, at the Pink Banana site.