What makes small, independent theater worthwhile to visit, instead of going to a big-production Broadway costume musical? The mainstays of the Great White Way have their own merits, but independent theater offers a type of authenticity and humanity that eludes larger productions. In many smaller venues, actors can portray the trials and tribulations of real people with real emotions, while directors can ask us whether we see ourselves in these characters. Tape, TOW Theatre Company's current production at The Adrienne Theatre, exemplifies the intimacy of independent theater and the deeply affecting nature of realistic characters.

Tape details one night in one room, and three high school friends who are forced to reconcile the puerile idealism of youth with the harsh reality of middle age. Vince, a volunteer firefighter, lives his life in a haze of drugs, alcohol and bull-headed machismo. Vince's moral opposite is his high school friend Jon, who has immersed himself in today's society -- in what Vince would call bullshit. With designer shoes and a leather jacket, Jon takes the moral high ground by making socially conscious films about society's ills. Of course, in the middle of this is Amy, the assistant DA who represents the cold, hard impartiality of the law.

At the core of the play is a constant mistrust in society, a theme that resonates universally. As members of this touchy-feely pre-professional world, how is this generation supposed to know what's right versus what's socially acceptable? Especially for Penn undergrads, who fantasize about graduate schools, Tape forces us to wonder whether we're doing the "right" thing. The three characters, Vince, Jon, and Amy, put a very real face behind these gnawing doubts, and tease taboos with both sardonic humor and moments of uncontrollable anger.

Anybody who has ever wondered whether life exists beyond the boundaries of university life will value the care that the directors and actors pour into Tape. By using a very simple premise and only one set, Tape offers a different, more thoughtful perspective to guilt, perception, and our own daily lives. Whether you choose to believe the actors' performances or not is a different story, but the play at least offers superb acting and some interesting cud to chew on while zoning out in your Calculus class.


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