The debut production of GroundWorks Theatre Inc., a new company founded by local community theater veterans Robert and Sean O'Connell, is an unqualified success. The O'Connells find themselves in familiar surroundings at the Darkhorse Theater, where they staged many a production for ACT I. Yet the thrust of their latest venture is a focus on plays that have never been produced in Nashvillea welcome and progressive notion for those of us uninterested in seeing yet another mounting of Steel Magnolias or Arsenic and Old Lace.
Their inaugural effort is Tape, an edgy, modern play by Stephen Belber that touches some raw nerves. Three late-twentysomethings, Vince, Amy and Jon, meet in a motel room in Lansing, Mich. They all knew each other in high school, back when Vince and Amy had a failed romance and Amy had a long-held crush on Jon. The occasion for the get-together is ostensibly an interest in Jon's new movie, screening at a local film festival. Coke-snorting, drug-dealing tough-guy Vince has other ideas, however. Believing that Jon's brief sexual encounter with Amy back in senior year was an incident of date-rape, Vince goes to great lengths to induce Jon to admit as much, then captures the confession on a hidden hand-held tape recorder. When Amy arrives, we learn that she has become a lawyer, currently employed as an assistant district attorney. This not-insignificant fact takes on increasing importance as the principals engage in a high-stakes pas de trois involving selfish motivation, blackmail, jealousy, personal integrity (or the lack thereof) and the memory of past events, both real and imagined.
Belber's sharply written script offers wit, colloquial zeal and a sense of menace that holds the audience's rapt attention. Events play out in the form of a mental jigsaw puzzle, clearly challenging the viewer's own perceptions and inviting a sense of collective, vicariously entertaining indulgence in the tense gamesmanship afoot.
Robert O'Connell directs the committed cast, which is spearheaded by Jack E. Chambers' smoldering performance as the unrefined but purposeful Vince. No stranger to Nashville theater, Chambers has appeared in local productions of everything from Shakespeare to The Rocky Horror Show. This role seems particularly apt for his external bad-boy persona, and he works his character's essential unpredictability to good effect.
After a couple of years of high (mostly musical) achievement as a regular at Boiler Room Theatre, Megan Murphy enters the arena of more serious drama in the role of Amy, proving that she can handle heavier material as well as she can sing a comic song. Daniel Vincent fills out the ensemble as Jon. Though he's the weakest link in the trio, he still offers a dedicated portrayal of a fundamentally self-absorbed guy forced beyond his normal coping skills to deal with his own foibles and personal issues.
Jonathan Stephens' set is a cool but functional interpretation of a room at a Motel 6, with open gridwork walls that hint at the cage-like atmosphere in which the actors play out their contentious interrelationships. Sam Frazee's lighting design eventually reads as generally competent, yet the audience is bathed uncomfortably in garish light at curtain's rise. If for some reason that's an intentional effect, it ought to be tweaked for the show's upcoming final weekend.
Yet the emphasis in Tape is best where it should be: on actors mining some intellectually stimulating and confrontationalif admittedly somewhat manipulativematerial. The end result is consistently good theater that comes highly recommended. The play closes on April 10.
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That clip is horrifying. It looks like postmortem makeup. Very uncanny valley.
AGGGHHHH that last picture!