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Love Tapes

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Penn Jillette and Steven Banks--the madman magician and the writer for SpongeBob SquarePants respectively--have collaborated on their first play, a comedic romance that incorporates naked Hula-Hoop spinning, cheesy rock music, a touch of improvisation, and live videotaping. The cast delivers fearless, multifaceted performances that are funny and heartwarming. And Jessie Marion's loose, free-floating direction accents the show's wild abandon. But the unmotivated, tacked-on concluding scenes are so incongruent that they almost erase the 90 minutes of pleasing, original entertainment leading up to that point.

Love Tapes refers to a series of confidential video messages sent through the mail. Melinda (Julie Mullen) is obsessed with rock singer Kevin (Ralph Saenz), and she sends him a videotape of her trying to be sexy--even showing off her skills with a Hula-Hoop while topless. She pulls an unsuspecting person from the audience to videotape her, and the video is transmitted to a TV onstage. Melinda makes more videotapes, though her demeanor changes drastically as she responds to tapes she receives. It turns out that not only Kevin has seen the video; so has Carl (Dean Cameron), Kevin's assistant, who falls for Melinda.

Mullen is believable as both an obsessed fan and as a quiet, unhappy woman searching for love. And her Hula-Hoop abilities are impressive. Cameron is charismatic and engaging. His honest performance turns Carl into an Everyman hero. The use of audience members as camera operators-actors is risky, but Mullen and Cameron work well with the unsuspecting participants, grabbing laughs out of their improvised exchanges. But their abilities can't save the odd climax, for which Jillette and Banks did not lay the groundwork. Love Tapes is somewhat entertaining, but, without a revised ending, it will never be more than that.

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