Tape Theater Review -- Russo Leads Intense Performances at Intimate Venue

Tape is playing in a very limited release, March 19-22 2009, Friday, Saturday and Sunday with an 8pm showtime at the intimate Avery Schreiber Theater in North Hollywood.  Suggested as a fast-paced and unpredictable drama between old friends.  It’s a pretzel twist of a plot which holds your white-knuckled embrace for the full 60 minutes.

I’m not going to lie.  As a reviewer it’s always fun to visit the Ahmanson or Pantages.  The amazing venue, dynamic production design and show-stopping numbers.  But Los Angeles runneth over with strong performances.  Seldom, however, do you get to witness it unfolding so intimately.  Inches away.  And that’s what tonight was all about.

Meet Your Show

Lights fade up to introduce Jason Arthur Russo who plays “Vince” a down-on-his-luck boozer with some serious introspection issues.  His mouth shares its attention between the bottle and the kitchen sink until a knock on the door makes it only worse.

Jason Arthur Russo

Remy Wallace’s “Jon” steps in offering a completely different tone.  A winner; fresh-looking, sharply-dressed.  While they’re old friends, they’re now also direct contradictions.  Or are they?  And basically this is the show.  Good news: they have chemistry.  But can their fun and games last for a marathon session?

Rat A Tat Tat

The dialogue goes in and out.  There are surely dynamic moments, but there’s sporadic awkward spots.  Oddly enough, it works for them.  It becomes real.  You’re not watching a show anymore, now it’s eavesdropping.  One would do well to encourage improvising during the dry moments.  

The dialogue-heavy script is very Mamet-inspired.  Although, to my memory, there’s no profanity, it’s hard-boiled and tickles home.  Dealing with sex, youth, social issues and relationships, it covers no new ground, but instead delivers ripe material for performances.  And Russo and Wallace take it for all they can.

Remy Wallace

What speaks well is their energy.  Russo in particular maintains stamina.  About twenty-five minutes in he reveals a plot point that takes us to a whole new level.  While Wallace must work to actively receive it all, it’s Russo who gets to play.  And his energy could power a third-world country.  He goes and goes.  During his longest of monologues, he keeps chugging along, his eyes devilishly spirited.

About forty-five minutes in, our third and final cast mate arrives.  The only female, and wrapped in a striking red coat, Natalie Nardone’s “Amy” makes an instant impression.  See, even before her arrival the plot spends more than enough time introducing her.  We might know more about her than her own fiancee.  Then again, how much of it can we trust?  

And soon enough, comes the red thumb of the show.  With about ten minutes to go, the previously modest lighting decides to get dramatic.  It’s at a trigger moment.  At first I cheered.  It would have been brave to dip down and end it.  It would have been reminiscent of John Patrick Shanley’s Tony Award-winning work " Doubt".

Natalie Nadone

Instead, lighting goes askew and the performances ramp up.  Our lady in red makes a harsh decision that impacts both men.  The problem is, our relatable Mr. Wallace drops his energy and in doing so tips off the last big twist of the night.  But our less observant viewers will still get the ah-ha.

Curtain’s Down

The cast deserves to be seen, as each performer has talent.  At a running time of sixty straight minutes, the shear energy of it would intimidate even the strongest of performers.  For this, Russo and Wallace deserve kudosNardone’s nuance invites more than the words themselves.  She delivers a delicious moment when confronted with a big revelation, allowing for a “Crying Game”-inspired eroticism that might possibly change her character, how the boys view her and the world of the story.  

Stephen Belber’s script has strong moments but misses the opportunity to hit a grand slam.  He clearly finds it entertaining to twist and pull his characters, and on a small stage it works.  Laura Patrice Nadler’s direction was subtle at the intimate level.   Joe Fugarino dealt with lighting and sound.  Admirable efforts considering the venue.

Tape continues to play at the Avery Schreiber Theater Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8pm.  For tickets and more information, contact: www.actorslifeline.com/Tape.html  or call: 310-933-1449

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