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Trouble with a Capital T and That Stands for Tape and That Rhymes with ... Uh-Uh, Not Telling

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Tape is only the second theater production at Tempe's Venue 104, which, sadly, closes for good at the end of this month.

The loss of the cafe/bar/gallery/theater/music venue is particularly sad because Michael Peck and company were doing such solid work and their dream (at least the part that featured having a space) crashed so very quickly.

Given the stage troupe's pedigree -- Chyro Arts and, before that, Tom Leveen's Is What It Is Theatre -- it's not surprising that October's Mr. Marmalade was breathtakingly good. Tape is a very different play, but if an hour of well-crafted, well-acted dialogue is your thing, you'll be impressed.

Stephen Belber's script became a low-grossing 2001 film directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, The School of Rock, A Scanner Darkly). It starred Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Uma Thurman, who was nominated for an Independent Spirit award for her performance.

The story unfolds in real time in a motel room where Jon (Adam Solon, in the Venue 104 production) meets his old high-school buddy, Vince (Venue 104 artistic director Michael Peck), who's come out from the SF Bay Area to visit on the occasion of a screening of Jon's documentary at the Lansing (Michigan) Film Festival. After the guys visit and argue for a while, they're joined by Amy (Chrystalle Ball), who dated both of them back in the day and is now an attorney who's settled in Lansing.

Promotional materials for this script reveal more of what happens among the three characters, which I think is a crappy idea (though I understand that there just isn't much else to say about it ahead of time). I urge you to avoid reading that stuff if you decide to see the show; I think finding out as you go along is much more satisfying.

Vince spends his quality time drinking beer and enjoying marijuana and cocaine as he harasses Jon about integrity and responsibility. Eventually we learn that, as is often the case with substance abusers, he's emotionally stalled out in adolescence, so he's playing his friends much the way he always has. Peck, under Janis Webb's direction, gives an elegant sheen of cycling paranoia to a guy who stomps around in boxer shorts whining for most of the show. We like him only and exactly as much as we're intended to.

Solon and Ball meet Peck's level in what is a deeply actor-dependent show. Though they blast through some of Jon's and Amy's complex verbal gambits and rationalizations (which is simply a little dizzying in the presence of characters who'd rather punish than understand and who insist on excruciating detail about one another's motivations, not that it helps clarify them), they maintain a claustrophobic tension and allude to mystery that's both off-putting and intriguing.

Chase Budden's spare, shit-brown set is also impressive, with depressing urban nightglow outside the room's window and the traditional exposed closet/bathroom vanity area looking just the way it should. Grimy baseboards and a sturdy door complete the picture.

Tape continues through Saturday, December 17, at Venue 104, 940 East University Drive in Tempe. Tickets are $10 to $16; click here to purchase in advance, or call 602-256-0166 for more information.

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