Actors keep Little Theatre's 'Tape" from shining

The script to Steven Belber's 2000 "Tape" is a light, fun read. We meet two high school male friends who are doing some heavy partying with help from a healthy-sized bong. We then meet the pair 10 years later.

Vince (Geo Nikols), seen in Las Vegas Little Theatre's production in sloppy T-shirt, shorts and unkempt long hair, doesn't seem to have changed much. His life is still centered on getting high, and he still doesn't seem to know what he wants to be if he grows up.

Jon (Michael O'Neal) is a budding filmmaker, and one look at his expertly coiffed hair and carefully casual jacket, jeans, black shirt and shoes, tells you he thinks he knows exactly who he is and where he's headed (pssst: He doesn't).

Their reunion in Vince's motel room - they are in Lansing, Mich., for a screening of a documentary Jon just made - doesn't go as expected. And things turn dark when another mutual, formerly intimate acquaintance - Amy (Stephanie Roybal), a local assistant district attorney - drops by. The nature of Amy's relationship with both men, and a confession that Jon makes on a tape (which may or may not be accurate), makes for an enjoyably mysterious tale of messy relationships and the fallacies of memory.

Director Jason Nino gets things off to a promising start with the prologue scene being played on a small downstage screen. The actors, performing in front of a humorously unsteady camera in a cinema verite style, seem to be having fun. Their work is natural and perfectly scaled. It's as if Nino just happened to capture a couple of blissfully silly adolescents at play.

Something weird happens when we get to the "live" portion. Nikols loses his reality base and becomes a performer interpreting a role. O'Neal has a much easier time , because he understands dialogue is just one small part of who a character is. You often feel that what O'Neal says is the result of something stirring in his brain and heart. With Nikols, it's all about cleverly saying lines.

O'Neal, though, eventually runs into trouble with faking naturalism. His too many affected middle-of-sentence hesitations come across as showy attempts to indicate hesitancy.

Roybal brings a welcomed relaxed manner to her Amy. The trouble is, she's TOO relaxed. She's so understated that she's barely there. And when the three players get all emotional in the climax, Nino overscales the pathos. What's intriguingly complex on the page is here a one-note soap opera.

While Nino succeeds in capturing the texture of friendship between the males (the actors balance each other's energies, as so many close friends do), I think he has made a major mistake in playing into the drama, instead of sometimes playing against it.

These characters spend so much time examining their feelings with such gut-wrenching intensity that we quickly reach the point of wanting to shout, "OK. Enough. Get on with your lives."

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheater You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas NV 89125.