REVIEW by Willard Manus

TAPE, by Stephen Belber, comes to L.A. with quite a pedigree-- successful productions Off-Broadway and at the 2000 Humana Festival, plus a quickie independent film shot digitally by Richard Linklater, starring Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman. The L.A. production is courtesy of Naked Angels, a New York-based theatre company with a strong celebrity bias (its L.A. opening- night invitation even listed the celebs who would be in attendance). The hype aside, TAPE benefits from its past exposure.

All three actors in this triangle-drama have worked together on it in the past, which makes for sharply defined characters, crisply handled dialogue and
assured performances. The director, Geoffrey Nauffts, has been associated with the play all along and must be credited with its swift, hard-driving pace.
Belber, one of the three associate writers for The Laramie Project, writes 20-something characters well, particularly the two males, Vince (Dominic Fumusa) and Jon (Josh Stamberg). Behind their boisterous, bumptious, frat-boy facades, they are desperately trying to grow up. Though Vince is still dealing dope for a living, Jon has become a "poet filmmaker" and is about to show his first feature at the Lansing Film Festival, which he hopes will lead to a Hollywood break.

We are introduced to these two old pals after a clumsy and unecessary prologue, an offstage highschool party replete with pot- smoking, foul language and lurid lighting. Then Belber gets down to the real drama, Vince trying to get Jon to admit that he not only took his highschool girlfriend Amy (Alison West) out after they broke up, but raped her at a party. The long confrontation scene between the two of them, with Vince trying to get at the truth and Jon trying to hide and then rationalize his behavior, makes for
good drama. There is something strong at stake and the two manboys fight like hell--sometimes literally--to defend their position. Vince's use of a
hidden tape recorder not only raises the stakes but gives the play its title.
The play's plot gears shift (and grind slightly) when Amy, now a successful assistant district attorney, shows up and is forced by the two of them to recall and eventually relive the date-rape night. The confrontation turns into
retribution of a kind, with stunningly horrific results for all of them.

Belber's taut, acerbic, hard-hitting play will run through May 11 at Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollyuwood.
Call (323) 856-4200.