Vincent is a coke-sniffing pot dealer whose latent "violent tendencies" have driven away those closest to him. Jon is a buttoned-down, anal-retentive filmmaker determined to use his art to show the world the cliff that society is headed over if things don't radically change. They were best friends in high school, but 10 years and different journeys have fundamentally changed their relationship. Think Michael Moore vs. a more jaded "The Dude" Lebowski. Think Radisson vs. Motel 6.
They're meeting in Lansing, Michigan, ostensibly to celebrate the biggest weekend of Jon's life: the entry into a festival of the film he's spent most of his post-high-school life creating. But the burned-out Vincent has his own agenda: he's going to get the truth about what happened between Jon and Amy, Vincent's high-school love turned assistant district attorney.
That's the setup for Stephen Belber's compactly written 1999 drama Tape, which is receiving an intensely compelling production courtesy of director Oanh Nguyen and the Chance Theater. The contemporary nature of the play, its rather seedy subject matter—drugs! Date rape! Motel 6!—and the quality of the production (helped by Nguyen's firm blend of naturalism and stylized lighting and movement effects) all point to a further maturation of this company. For the past few years, the Chance has proven the county's most active storefront theater in terms of number and type of shows; plays like this suggest they're also interested in saying something.
So what does Tapesay? Pretty much what every good play says in some way or another: people are fucked-up, we're liars, we're scared, we live in denial, and we are the worst judges of our own characters. But the seeds for redemption are buried in there somewhere, and the first step toward cleaning the moral slate is honestly embracing that most daunting of all F words: forgiveness.
The fact that revelation is embodied in the rather selfish, arrogant nature of Vincent (a thoroughly believable and watchable Casey Long) is one of the masterstrokes of Belber's play. His hunger to find out what happened between Jon (a suitably reserved Dimas Divas) and his ex-girlfriend Amy (a subtly dangerous Stephanie Philo) a decade ago is obviously a psychological defense keeping him from fully facing the total loser he's dangerously close to becoming. His obsessive need to explain the past is his desperate way of burying the present because he's scared shitless about an empty future. And ain't that America for you and me?
You take a look around the county's theater scene, and like always, there's a bunch of mediocre to just-plain-lame stuff being produced. But shows such as the Chance's Tape, along with the Hunger Artists' stellar production of the absolutely killer The Gog/Magog Project(closing this weekend) are living proof that amid the Rentsand The Producerses, good, honest theater that is more concerned with emotion and soul than hyperbole and image isn't just a peripheral diversion—it's a fucking necessity.
Tape at the Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, (714) 777-3033. Sat., 4 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m. Through Oct. 17. $15-$17.