Matthew Reddin
Pink Banana’s “Tape”

Unique, intimate, intense

By - Nov 14th, 2010 12:53 pm
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Rob Maass (l.) and Matt Kemple face off in Stephen Belber’s “Tape.”

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.

They exchange pleasantries. The conversation turns to Vince’s recent break-up with his girlfriend, his career aspirations (or lack thereof), and then to what Vince has wanted to discuss all along: The night Jon had sex with Amy, Vince’s high-school girlfriend, when they were seniors 10 years ago.

Maass (as Jon) and Gwen Zupan (as Amy) have different ideas about what happened 10 years ago.

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.

Categories: Theater

0 thoughts on “Pink Banana’s “Tape”: Unique, intimate, intense”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ll second the reviews. Tape was great theater, effectively delivered.

    Tape met the key criterion of great theater: A thought-provoking, unpredictable story that captures the imagination and holds attention. Pink Banana created an experience available no other way but through being present in the moment.

    So my critical observations are minor.

    The environment of a hotel room allows for a natural, realistic event to unfold. Theater voices, although they were reduced, are entirely unnecessary. Vocal dynamics could have varied from loud angry voices all the way to whispers. Freely used pauses, more casual conversation and fewer dramatic peaks in the dialogue would have heightened the sense of reality.

    At its core, theater is not reality. Time is compressed. Story lines determine the flow. Actors inhabit characters with stereotyped perspectives that deliberately contrast and conflict with others. To be more real, theater needs to move beyond that framework in unpredictable ways.

    As is often the case with “real” stories, the dialogue was pumped up more than necessary. Characters were built from stereotypes which reduced the unpredictability of the story. Vince could have been less of a loser. John could have built a somewhat more comfortable life and still have hang-ups about his past. Amy did not need to be so professional in her response to such personal circumstances. Less drama would have been more dramatic..

    But you had to be there.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Further reflection on the experience reminds me of the film movement Dogma 95 ( These largely Danish film makers sought to return cinema to “reality” by removing the artificiality introduced by film production.

    The Pink Banana production also stripped away much of theatrical production – costumes, lighting, music, “staging”,etc. – adhering to several of the Dogma 95 “rules” for contemporary producers.

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