TAPE by Stephen Belber, directed by Chad Dembski, with John Gordon, Kate Meehan and Chris Reynolds. Presented by Crate Productions at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen West). Runs to March 21, Thursday 8 pm, Friday-Saturday 8 and 10 pm, Sunday 2:30 pm. $15, Sunday pwyc. 647-273-2435. Rating: NNN
Reunions aren't always the pleasant nostalgia trip they're cracked up to be. Take the meeting of friends Vince, Jon and Amy, who played sexual musical chairs in high school. Stephen Belber sets his play Tape a decade later, when antsy, violent drug dealer Vince, following his own private agenda, brings the trio together again in Lansing, Michigan, where persuasive up-and-coming film director Jon is attending a festival and Amy's an assistant district attorney.
Admissions, secrets and power plays provide the reunion, in a seedy, beer-can-strewn hotel room, with a mass of potential land mines.
That small room is where we all sit, actors and audience (only 15 at a time can see the show), with the Gladstone Hotel and its ambient indoor and outdoor noises offering the right atmosphere and immediacy.
Director Chad Dembski knows how to raise the stakes, though the first 20 minutes or so amble along at a too-comfortable pace, a problem caused partly by the writing and partly by still-gelling acting chemistry.
Then John Gordon (Vince) and Chris Reynolds (Jon) begin to build the pressure as the two men compete, with dramatics that include a nasty-looking fight 5 feet from the audience.
But it's Kate Meehan who really galvanizes things. Sweeping coolly into the room after the initial set-up, her sophisticated Amy clearly holds the best cards - and holds them close to her chest - in this emotional bluffing contest. In a production where emotional tension seems to bounce off the walls, she's the queen of hearts ruling two boyish jokers.