Hyper-Realism Meets Seedy Noir in 'Tape' at the Los Feliz Motel

In an age when large swaths of life are being commandeered by detached electronic interactions, it is more important than ever for theatre to be a source of gripping innovation that draws the audience out of the mindful oppressiveness of input devices and into an experiential world where anything can unfold through the satiating spark of creative storytelling.

Working in conjunction Needtheater and the Smith and Martin Company's current production of Stephen Belber's psychological thriller Tape proves that theatre is often at its best when it abandons the trappings of traditional staged theatre to physically and mentally engage the audience. Tucked away in a slightly seedy guestroom at the Los Feliz Motel in Atwater, the production gives its audience a tight 90 minutes of unorthodoxically set immersive performance, direction, and staging of in-your-face modern noir fiction.

Through the pulpy but relatable writing in Tape, Belber depicts the unsavory, usually hidden motives that drive individuals to act dishonorably. Three once-close friends create a self-perpetuating concentric trap that pits their insecurities against one another during a reunion in a motel room. Remembered perspectives once diluted by time and distance are brought to the forefront of their lives through a twisted psychological game of chicken encased in subtly diffident roles that highlight the insecurity of machismo.

The cast goes beyond merely conveying plot through dialogue. Instead, they expertly hone in on the unspoken, subtle, uncomfortable meta communication of lost familiarity. John Pick and JB Waterman work in tandem to build audience-enthralling tension through the offensive buck-passing of mind bullets. Pick infuses the role of drug-dealing firefighter Vince with an unpredictable, invigorating, wild-eyed energy that steers the production down unexpected paths. Waterman levies Jon, a minor filmmaker struggling to forget past transgressions, with the staunch sophistication of a well-tempered consequentialist. Finally, in a supporting role, Kate Brown blends composure and blunt-force virtue to manifest the sort of ego-crushing female dominance that gives the role of victimization-refusing Amy loads of power.

Under the hyper-realistic direction of Ian Forester, the play is a dichotomy of vigorously orchestrated theatre and always in-the-moment intuitive flux. Forester goes straight to the heart of Belber's play and thrusts all of the work's thickened, anxiously unnameable emotion out into the enveloping collective of misplaced audience and performers huddled together in the dimly defiled motel room. The cast and audience are constantly impacting one another, shifting the possibility of the art contained within to ensure that each and every performance is like a clumsy but thrilling first dance with a stranger. Needtheatre's take on Tape requires that the audience not only symbiotically tune-in to the action of the performance, but to place themselves on display as simple, necessary, and artfully placed background static.

Tape is playing in a guestroom at the Los Feliz Motel in Atwater through September 5 on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Tickets are $15 and available online.