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Tense drama in 'Tape'; a military takeover in 'The Occupation'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Two other plays are being presented in repertory at this summer's Contemporary American Theater Festival. The stronger is Stephen Belber's Tape, a three-person drama that made its debut at the 2000 Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville and has already been made into a movie starring Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman.

A muscular drama, fiercely directed by Wendy C. Goldberg, the play centers on two former high school buddies, Vince and Jon, who meet up 10 years later.

Jason Field's anger-fueled Vince is convinced that at the end of their senior year Jon committed a prosecutable offense against a young woman named Amy, whom they had both dated.

Now Vince has orchestrated a motel-room reunion to coerce Kevin Daniels' seemingly laid-back and morally upright Jon into: 1) confessing and 2) apologizing to Amy, who has become an assistant district attorney.

Although the interaction between the two men is charged, the plot strains credibility because Vince's motivation is never clear -- even to Kwana Martinez's Amy, who eventually shows up and delivers one of the play's most impassioned speeches.

A drug dealer whose life seems to be spiraling downhill, perhaps Vince can't face the fact that Jon, a budding filmmaker, may actually amount to something. Or perhaps he's still jealous of Jon's relationship with Amy. Or maybe he's just a nasty piece of work.

Belber has created strong, combative characters and dialogue, but the situation is never entirely convincing.

Harry Newman is on far shakier ground with The Occupation, a one-note play about a military takeover by unspecified forces in a time and place described merely as: "Over there. Now." In this world premiere, Daniels portrays a meek farmer whose home is invaded by an unctuous military leader (Mateo Gomez) and his soldiers.

Besides offering a simplistic -- and irrefutable -- condemnation of such military actions, the play has little to say. Nor is it helped by the heavy-handed direction of Ed Herendeen, who starts the production with armed soldiers bursting into the theater and holding the audience at gunpoint. War is bad and so is the subjugation of innocent people, but a play has to do more than hit us over the head with a truism.

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