Back Door Theater, 4319 SE Hawthorne, 757-8077, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, through April 2, $10
Set in a seedy hotel room in a small town, Tape is a longish one-act that begins with the reunion of two old high school friends. Jon (Brian Adrian-Koch) is a pretentious filmmaker with just enough self-awareness to avoid being a complete prick. His old buddy Vince (Clay W. Smith) is an aimless, pot-addled drifter. The duo have met up before since graduating high school, but this time around, Vince has a bone to pick. Intelligent and manipulative despite his scruffy façade, he induces a confession from Jon of a rape he committed against Amy, a girl that Vince once dated. Eventually it comes out that Vince has not only been taping the conversation, but has also invited Amy, who just so happens to live nearby, to come hang out.
Playwright Stephen Belber never completely cashes in on this intriguing premise because he leaves Vince's motivations ambiguous. The fact that Vince has waited 10 years to execute this devious plan is fascinating, and the plot-driven script would have benefited greatly from one last twist in which we learn why. Instead, Vince just comes across as a vaguely sinister wash-up who likes to fuck with people. Nevertheless, Belber has a gift for fluid dialogue, and the cast of this current production delivers it with natural and subtle grace. The three stars, Smith, Adrian-Koch, and Erin Way as Amy, have a nice chemistry together, though director Jayson Kochan's staging doesn't utilize the cramped Back Door space very well, wasting what little physical action there is on aimless movements and sloppy blocking configurations.
In a recent phone conversation, Way informed me that Tape's collaborators are student cast-offs from Portland State University's theater department, an allegedly stuffy faculty that "doesn't want to be challenged" and that teaches their students that theater is a "dying art form." I don't know if those charges are valid or not, but apparently PSU is doing something right because the debut "real world" production of this rebellious student faction doesn't suck. If they were still working within the confines of the PSU system, they might even have received a passing grade.