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A CurtainUp Review
Love Tapes
By David Avery

This is my dream job, because just like you I love Kevin…well, not just like you.
---Carl, trying to convince Melinda that he is the one for her.
Love Tapes
Love via Love Tapes
Love Tapes is the story of star-crossed lovers -- only this time the "star" is a rock star and the "crossed" is video letters. The new play by Steven Banks and Penn Gillette is a love story of the traditional kind -- it has desperate people taking desperate actions to try and satisfy some deep need for acceptance. Along the way, there are obstacles and setbacks, but in the end. . .

Well, let's not give away too much. Love Tapes, debuting in Los Angeles, uses videography to demonstrate the problems with finding your soul mate. Its story has roots in a real life event that happened to guitarist Steve Vai -- a female fan sent him a video letter of a provocative nature. The play begins with Melinda (Julie Mullen) recording a very risqué video for a member of a rock band. The band, called Umlaut (as in the two dots that occasionally grace a vowel to denote specific pronunciation), appears to be of the heavy metal, 80s hair band variety. Melinda's tape is confessional, erotic, sad, and pathetic at the same time and Melinda does seem to be the sort of groupie who ends up in court on stalking charges.

As the first act progresses, we get more depth from Melinda and the tapes. Apparently the tapes have not been one way but have been answered and led to a relationship. The second act takes us to Carl's (Dean Cameron) apartment where we learn the other half of the story.

The plot centers on the filming of these vignettes, done live on the stage with real cameras and a TV monitor that is pointed at the audience. This has a disconcerting effect, as the actors are speaking directly at the camera, not the audience. In order to read their expressions and see their faces, the audience is forced to look at the TV set rather than the actor and in the process is forced into learning about these characters by watching them on TV, just as Melinda has learned about and fallen in love with Kevin.

The direction is clever, with each act being preceded by a quick light show simulating a rock concert, and between scene changes being done by "roadies" for Umlaut. There are also videos of the band, shots of MTV's TRL Live and VH1's Behind the Music which lend authenticity to Melinda's infatuation and are also very funny. To further cement Umlaut's godlike status, audience members are offered a demo CD and Umlaut T-shirts for sale in the lobby.

Dean Cameron and Julie Mullen do an excellent job in developing their characters. Their monologues to the camera progressively point to believable changes in their attitudes. Mullen's Melinda transforms from someone who is borderline delusional to someone who has probably the firmest grasp of the play's realities. She is fearless in her opening scene, exposing herself in more ways than one. Cameron's Carl shows a pitiable honesty in his attempts to sway Melinda with his love. They both start out in love with Kevin from Umlaut and, based on the videos from each other, both end up letting that false love go .

There is a great deal of audience interaction in the play which the actors handle with ease despite the potential for disaster when introducing an unknown element into a controlled setting. These interactions actually provide a nervous tension to the action that underscores the tension that exists any time two people try and connect in real life. Reality is seldom as pretty or neat as it is displayed in the media.

Overall, the play is not going for any meaning other than that love can conquer all. That conquest is achieved with a sense of style, originality, and impending disaster that are the hallmarks of any great romance.

Love Tapes
Written by Steven Banks and Penn Jillette
Directed by Jessie Marion
Cast: Dean Cameron (Carl), Julie Mullen (Melinda), Ralph Saenz (Kevin), Emily DeDakis, Hans Gelpke, Lisa Anne Nicolai (Roadies)
Scenic Design: Matthew Scarpino
Associate Scenic Design: Aaron Gregory
Costume Design: Maggie Marion
Lighting Design: Jason Mullen
Music: Eric Travis Wilson
Running time: approximately 1 hour 35 minutes (including a 10 minute intermission)
Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope, LA, CA 90004, (310) 281-8337,
From 1/20/05 to 2/20/05
Reviewed by David Avery based on 1/21/05 performance
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