Videotaped love lettersform the crux of Steven Banks and Penn Jillette’s Love Tapes,closing this weekend at Sacred Fools Theater — inner desires and confessions plunked onto a videocassette and mailed across the country. “I better not look at [the cassette] or I’ll never send it,” the confessors tell the camera operators (plucked from the audience). There’s no tragic dimension to the humiliation of baring all for the camera — which Melinda (Julie Mullen) does, literally, Hula-Hooping naked in an attempt to woo lead guitarist Kevin (Ralph Saenz) of the band Umlaut (which appears onstage). Compared to Albee’s play, this is ice-skating, but Love Tapesnonetheless seems to twirl amiably on the line dividing the public and the private sectors of the frozen lake. Melinda’s tape lands in the hands of Kevin’s PR man and general factotum, Carl (Dean Cameron), who becomes smitten with her image, mistaking it for the real her.
Feeling a bit like a stalker, Carl — a shaved-headed sheep in a rocker’s leather clothing — sends back a tape of his own explaining how Kevin just made fun of her, but that he, Kevin’s gofer, adores, better yet, understandsher. For a moment, there’s a Chekhovian dimension of unrequited love: Melinda’s in love with Kevin’s image, Carl’s in love with Melinda’s image. More tapes are exchanged — increasingly graphic — until a real-time meeting between Carl and Melinda is inevitable.
Melinda flies across the country to see Carl, who won’t even kiss her unless there’s a video camera recording the historic moment. Melinda wants an authentic experience; Carl wants the story of it, which, in Melinda’s view, defiles the real thing. And we’re right back to Chekhov’s “The Kiss.”
The play’s resolution is a cop-out, but the tension between what’s real and what’s recorded is a revelation. Under Jessie Marion’s direction, Mullen’s Melinda has the striking appeal of a simple mind and complicated soul, groping her way across lines of decorum, then trying to grope her way back. Cameron’s Carl is equally innocent — as earnest, in his own way, as Albee’s Martin, both of them conjuring Chekhov’s bewildered Ryabovich.
THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? | By EDWARD ALBEE | At the MARK TAPER FORUM, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown | Through March 20 | (213) 628-2772 or www.MarkTaperForum.org
LOVETAPES| By STEVEN BANKS and PENN JILLETTE | At the SACRED FOOLS THEATER, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Hollywood | Through February 26 | (310) 281-8337