How do you turn a morality play inside out? Take, for example, Stephen Belber’s 1999 drama, Tape, populated by characters whom, at first, are good and bad personified. Jon arrives at the motel room of his old school friend Vince, who he enduringly supports – despite Vince being a drug dealer and prone to violent tendencies. You’d imagine assigning the roles of angel and devil would be easy.
You can tell that Fregoli, a mostly unsung company, have been here before (they actually also produced Belber’s play in 2008). Rob McFeely directs with intimate awareness of the work’s twists and turns, suspending the company’s usual kinetic style for a more straitened approach.
This allows for subtle playing. Peter Shine’s Vince, for instance, boyishly begins as a grown man jumping around in his boxers, swilling bear and digging out his bellybutton fluff. He seems kind of harmless. Shine stealthily makes him into a sociopath, capable of more harm than we’d have thought. Moreover, so is his friend.
Jarlath Tivnan’s Jon is nicely polite yet combative. He runs a hand through his hair to keep a neat appearance, as if there were some concern about it. You see, the past is slyly present, both in Vince’s mind games and the sepia set designed by Jack Scullion and thoughtfully lit by Matt Burke. After a vicious courtroom-like examination of an event involving him and Vince’s school girlfriend Amy, Tivnan’s Jon fills with immense despair at his realisation of a wrongdoing. Our sympathies for him, however, are conflicted.
It’s one hell of a trick, turning the well-meaner into the monster, and McFeely judges it masterfully. Belber’s play not only still stirs; some of its lines stand to be read afresh. “I want to contribute to a debate on where this country’s going,” declares Jon, laying out his artistic statement as a filmmaker in the U.S. with a phrase that carries extra weight in the age of Trump.
The play’s questions about sexual consent, similarly, will resonate given the introduction of dedicated classes in colleges. When Amy (Eilish McCarthy, self-possessed) arrives, surprisingly doubtful of a crime committed against her, it puts Belber in a precarious position – is this woman, written by a man, questioning her abuse?
Rather, the play seems intent to go a level further. Though McCarthy and McFeely haven’t quite figured out how to show it, to own one’s suffering is to take at least some control of a life spinning off course.
Tape was performed at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin. Click here for more details.