In a grungy motel room in Lansing, Mich., Vince, a manipulative, burnt-out drug dealer, meets up with his old high school buddy Jon. Now a budding filmmaker on the brink of making it big, Jon returns to his hometown the night before his movie premieres at the local festival. Though Vince allegedly plans the reunion to congratulate his comrade, it becomes obvious that he wants to take care of some unfinished business. The guys connect in stereotypical fashion -- roughhousing, putting each other down, getting high, and throwing back warm beers -- but it's all a front for Vince's master plan to trick Jon into admitting that he date-raped Vince's old girlfriend, Amy, 10 years earlier. The male bonding deteriorates into a tense war of words and a vicious power struggle, one in which Vince browbeats Jon into a confession -- though Jon is unsure what happened that fateful night. The shit really hits the fan when Vince reveals that he has invited Amy, a district attorney who still lives in town, to meet him at the motel, and that he has recorded the confession on tape.
A writer and performer for The Laramie Project, the documentary theater play about the murder of Matthew Shepard that ran at the Berkeley Rep last June, Belber has a gift for negotiating the slippery terrain of memory and how it's captured. Tape's characters are forced to relive traumatic incidents that took place over a decade ago; not surprisingly, they have different interpretations of what transpired. Amy, for her part, has the most unexpected recollections of them all.
Though Belber's script was strong enough to withstand being turned into a Richard Linklater movie starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Robert Sean Leonard, he's since added a prologue and an epilogue that address the 10 years before and after the main events of the play, respectively. Unfortunately, Belber's attempt to sum up the story might work against its inherent ambiguity. The vagaries of memory are intrinsically unreliable. It's as if Belber is trying to force a resolution, the way we try to pin down the past through photographs, journals, and recordings. Still, Tape is full of surprises, and offers the wise lesson that some relationships are better left dead.