TheSharedScreen’s steamy new Zoom production of Tape – the 1999 play turned 2001 standalone film starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman – is a successful experiment in embracing the theater’s current virtual reality.
Courtesy of playwright Stephen Belber, Tape was adapted by Neal Davidson specifically for the Zoom platform. Instead of a meeting in a motel room with three old friends, as dictated by the original script, this production is presented as an actual video call.
Tape is a conversation between two, then three high school friends on the occasion of Jon’s return to town for a film festival. From the start, the interaction between Jon (Neal Davidson) and Vince (Travis Schweiger) crackles with old resentments lurking just below the surface of polite conversation. But before long, a much darker memory emerges and Jon realizes that Vince has a very serious agenda behind this seemingly innocuous catch-up.
As in a real video call, the three actors address each other while looking directly into their screens, and we the audience are forced into a “drama in-between” – a theatrical art term coined by Neil Davidson, whose class, John Dapolito’s Master Class for The Working Actor, was the crucible in which this performance was forged.
Dapolito, who also directed, avoided a major downfall of many Zoom productions: excessive stillness – like when the actors sit in their respective Zoom boxes talking but not moving and having trouble staying awake in front of my own screen. On the contrary, Dapolito barely allows his actors to remain physically, emotionally or vocally still. This variation – different notes struck at different times – creates a dynamic visual tableau and captivating storytelling.
As Jon, Neal Davidson is believable as a smart, self-righteous budding filmmaker. Although Jon begins the play firmly perched on high moral ground, the tables are quickly turned when his old flame, Amy (Chelsea J. Smith), unexpectedly joins the call. Smith also delivers a solid performance, playing the role of the bright and cheerful young professional perfectly…but also betraying something darker and angrier lurking behind Amy’s eyes.
However, the show’s undisputed driving force is Travis Schweiger as Vince, a firefighter who, unbeknownst to John, has a very specific agenda behind this friendly catch-up with his “oldest friend.”
As production begins, Vince reveals that his ex-girlfriend broke up with him because “she says I have violent tendencies”. Throughout the performance (which is live), it’s hard not to cast your eyes to the side of Vince’s screen, as if he could act on one of those violent tendencies. Schweiger is a very compelling physical artist, using every square inch of his Zoom box as his coked self jumps and dances all over the place, his body vibrating with suppressed emotion.
By adapting Tape for Zoom to be integrated into the room from the bottom up, Davidson is standardizing the format, making the video-calling platform, such a clutter in other pandemic rooms, nearly invisible. By making the format incidental to the piece, Davidson allows the lively writing and brilliant performances to shine without being overshadowed by this strange new medium.
Basically, Tape succeeds with the basics – good writing and good acting. Together, under the superb direction of John Dapolito, these elements create a tense atmosphere that I squirmed to escape from and yet was sad to leave at the end.
Runtime: Approximately 90 minutes, plus unlimited live chat.
Tape presented live by TheSharedScreen will then perform at 8:00 p.m. ET on Friday and Saturday, February 19 and 20, 2021. The lobby opens at 7:30 p.m. ET. Without intermission, 90 minutes. Live talkback follows. Tickets, which are free, are available online.
Written by Stephen Belber
Directed by John Dapolito
Adapted by Neal Davidson
With Neal Davidson (Jon), Travis Schweiger (Vince) and Chelsea J. Smith (Amy)
Presented by TheSharedScreen
Producer: Neal Davidson
Production Assistant: Kristen Noriega