Fresno City College’s theater department tackles the provocative play “Tape,” which opens Friday and continues through Dec. 8. I talked with director Janine Christl about the play for a piece in the 7 section. Here’s the extended version of that interview:
What is “TAPE” about, briefly?
Two high school friends, Jon and Vince, meet up at a motel room in Lansing, Michigan ten years after graduation. The night turns into a high stakes ride when the conversation turns towards an incident years earlier with a girl they both dated, Amy. Vince eventually pressures Jon into admitting that he had possibly date raped Amy and then reveals that he has taped his confession. To top it off, Amy is on her way over to meet them for dinner. Full of suspense and questions of motive, truth and perception, “Tape” delivers a dynamic roller coaster ride of lifelike drama.
Pictured: Will Jorge, Rebecca Hustedde and Javier Padilla.
What can you tell me about the playwright and the history of the show?
Stephen Belber is an American playwright, screenwriter and film director. Some of his interesting credits include working with the Tectonic Theatre Project where he researched, wrote and acted in “The Laramie Project” (the Matthew Shepard story). Both “The Laramie Project” and “Tape” were workshopped plays that were eventually made into films with all star casts. “Tape” debuted in 2000 as part of the Humana Festival of New Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville and was made into a film in 2001 staring Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.
Why did you want to do this show?
I wanted to do the show because it is actor driven and gives the small cast a tremendous amount to work with as far as character development and the strategies of control. In fact, it is a play about power and how we use it. Or, how we regain it when it’s been taken from us. “Tape” is also very timely in that the issue of rape has recently become politicized.
You’re using rotating casts at alternating performances. Why?
Artistically, it was an opportunity to develop a high stakes play with two different character backstories. My cast and I worked cooperatively on the history of these three very intimate relationships to find the story that fit the actor involved. “Tape” raises almost as many questions as answers, and we needed to dissect how to interpret and move forward with a story that is character driven and forthright. The two different stories both work in their own way. The end result is while you are seeing the same staging and the same dialogue with both casts, the energy of the pieces feels slightly different. I think this is where art takes flight, and with a play that is dependent on how you interpret motivations and perceptions, it commands the audience to be involved and make some choices too. The second and more obvious reason for the two casts is to give as many students a chance to be on stage as possible. The chance to be in a small cast is a joy that actors rarely have in the college arena. Often, actors make great strides when they play a role that never (or rarely) leaves the stage. Those parts require a diligence and dedication that some of our students were ready to take on. I am proud of both casts for their dedication to the story and for the vulnerability and straightforwardness they brought to the stage to create “Tape”.
Tell me about the staging.
One interesting side note is that the newer editions of “Tape” include an added Prologue and Epilogue that we opted to film. This takes the audience back in time to see the cast in high school ten years before the play takes place. It allows our audience to experience the 10 year time warp without the actors having to simulate a significant age jump on stage. Former FCC student Jon Hollis worked with me as our cinematographer and I think the film to play experience really works in this case.
What do you hope the audience takes from this play?
One of my favorite acting experts of all times, Uta Hagen, always said that what you should hope to gain from good theatre is that the piece motivates your audience to be reflective about their own life and loved ones. I hope we inspire people to be kind and gentle with each other. I hope that anyone that has had the terrible trauma of rape, or known someone that has, can connect to the story and find a place of peace and resolution in their own hearts. I hope that we inspire change.