These days, it’s the theater that knocks on Hollywood’s door for material and not the other way around. Playwright Stephen Belber’s “Tape, ” whose circuitous production history includes an off-off-Broadway mounting and a stop by the Humana Festival of New Plays, now has the dubious distinction of having inspired cinematic interpretations twice: once, for a highly-acclaimed 2001 film version; and now, for Oracle Productions’ part live-action, part-movie and part-video hybrid, replete with movie extras, on-location filming over two states and a professional cinematographer. Yet despite my belief that resources have been wasted on what amounts to unnecessary high-tech ornamentation, at best adding only marginally to the ultimate success of this show, Oracles’ “Tape” is an absorbing and psychologically taut production featuring a trio of disciplined performers who know how to sustain the script’s neatly plotted tension until going off like pressure cookers. A straightforward story involving three high-school friends, an unexpected reunion and an accusation of rape, “Tape” raises more questions and thematic issues than it ever answers, from male rivalry to political correctness, the relativity of truth to the unreliability of memory. The play’s narrative core—the seventy sharply written minutes the play has always featured—is a hugely entertaining game of sexual and psychological one-upmanship that gives the play its satisfying drama. Belber’s writing additions since—additional monologues and narrative bits—misguidedly attempt to achieve a moral ablution for characters that do better to remain morally ambiguous. And Oracle’s video montages, mostly fleshing out an indeterminate past for its characters and going against the play’s strongest theme that truth is a matter of individual interpretation, is also a mistake. Luckily, Belber’s moving drama hasn’t been lost alongside the moving picture. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Oracle Productions, 3809 N. Broadway, (773)244-2980. Thu-Sat 8pm/Sun 7pm. $15-$20. Through April 23.