Unique, intimate, intense
Pink Banana’s Tape is like nothing else in Milwaukee theater this season.
The setting, Room 902 of the Best Western Hotel on Third Street, is one reason. Stephen Belber set his 1999 play in a hotel room; you might think that staging it in an actual hotel room would come off as a gimmick. It doesn’t. By physically placing you in the scene, co-directors Juanita Schuelke and Fjosh Redbeard and make it nearly impossible to see the performance as fiction. Tape feels more like voyeurism than entertainment.
As you enter, Vince (Matt Kemple) showers in the adjacent bathroom. He then shuffles about the room, oblivious to the audience. The only hint that the play is to about to begin in earnest comes when the crew slips in to remove wine glasses. Of course, such a literal, real setting would given anything less that utterly real performances. Kemple sets the bar high from the start, with normal actions of dressing and leafing through a copy of Penthouse.
The mood changes Jon (Rob Maass), an old high school friend, calls to say he’s on his way up. Kemple quickly strips to his underwear, cracks open a half-dozen beers, pours some of them into the sink and some of them down his throat. He throws the cans on the floor; he’s dressing the stage for a little performance of his own for his old school friends. When Jon arrives, it soon becomes clear that both are putting on shows for each other, but their motives aren’t apparent. Jon is in town to promote his film, to be shown at the Milwaukee International Film Festival (the directors localized the script). Vince seems to have come from California to support Jon. “Seems” is the key word.
The play takes off as Vince and Jon spar over Vince’s accusation of date-rape. The argument becomes increasingly vehement, even violent, and hits a climactic note. We think the question is settled. But not so fast; Amy herself (Gwen Zupan) arrives and brings a fresh dynamic to the play and a fresh viewpoint to the argument. Cool, detached, Amy contrasts sharply with Vince, who insists that that the other two stay until they acknowledge his vision of the past — a vision, it turns out, that may have been warped by what he perceives as Jon’s betrayal.
We never get a solid answer on what happened that night 10 years ago (Is Amy in denial? Is Vince?). But what we do get an in-your-face reminder that your reality might not match that of other involved parties. Not even if you can get it on tape.
Tape runs through Nov. 21 at the Best Westerm 710 N. Old World 3rd St. All scheduled performances have sold out; tickets remain for two added shows, at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, and 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21. Seating is limited to 12 per show. Tickets are $15, and are available online at Pink Banana’s website. No tickets will be sold at the door.